After my last article about my experience with depression, I had a few people reaching out to me asking about how they could be more supportive of their friends with depression in the gaming community. I figured I would do a short bullet-pointed list today about something’s you can do to potentially help your friend. Now remember, I am just a person with depression, and I’m not a specialist in any way. Every person’s depression is unique, so what works for one person may not another. However, this list is full of things that have helped me, and I have used when organizing game nights to help others as well.
- Be understanding if they are not in consistent attendance to gaming nights, even if they are cancelling last minute. Chances are your friend thought they would be able to do it, but based on their mood they were not in the right shape to play games that night. That’s okay. I wouldn’t suggest starting a legacy or campaign style game with someone with severe depression unless you know them very well. That lack of consistency could become a frustration for you, the person with depression and other players if they are not attending. However, on usual game nights be flexible and understanding.
- If it has been several gaming sessions since that person has attended a game session, reach out and re-invite them to the game night. Often times people with depression will feel that because they have missed that night they wouldn’t be welcome showing back up. As an organizer, it is nice if you drop them a non-pressuring note letting them know they are welcome back at anytime. You could try saying something like this, “Hey, we have noticed you haven’t been to game night recently. We just wanted to let you know that you’re welcome back whenever you feel up to it! Hope to see you soon!”. That kind of delivery does three things. First, it acknowledges that they haven’t been feeling well, and deems it as ok. Second it invites them back into the fold and third it tells them you genuinely miss them and want them to attend.
- Learn the rules of a game that person is looking forward to. Often times, the dread of sitting down to read the rules and then teach the game to a new group of people can keep a person with depression from learning a game they are otherwise excited about. If a friend of yours got a new game they are excited about, you could take the time to learn the rules. Then reach out to them like this, “Hey, I know you just picked up —–, I’m excited about it too so I spent some time and learned the rules. Do you wanna play it sometime soon?” Even if that person had already started to learn the rules, this alleviates the need to teach the game to you making it easier to sit down and play.
- Help set up and clean up the game. I’m not sure if this one is specific to me, or many people with depression struggle with it, but the idea of setting up or cleaning up a game sometimes will keep me from playing. That process just feels like such a big hurdle to get over that I just skip playing rather than do it. While this isn’t healthy, it’s unfortunately true. As someone with depression I’m extremely grateful to those who help with set up and clean up. It makes it feel more manageable..
- Play games digitally with them. Some days people with depression will not want to go to game night, or maybe they don’t want to deal with setting up a game. That’s okay, because there are still other ways you can include them in gaming. One of my favorites is playing digital games. The best thing about a digital game is it is low commitment. A person with depression can play in bed, with 10 blankets covering them. They don’t need to have showered, there is no game set up, and they don’t need to leave the house. You don’t even need to finish the game in one sitting. It’s not healthy to always encourage that behavior, but sometimes that’s what a person with depression needs. You are offering support by showing you understand but still want to spend some time playing a game with them. If you play over multiple days it can also give them something small to look forward to. A small reminder that someone cares.
- If they don’t want to make small talk, don’t force it. When I’m depressed, something I struggle with a lot is making small talk. My mind doesn’t seem to be programmed to talk about the small things when I am struggling inside. Apart of the reason I enjoy board games is I can talk about the games and what is happening without having to talk about my person life, unless I feel like it. If you force the person to talk throughout the game it make take the joy of the game out for them.
- On a same note, avoid asking them questions like: “What’s wrong?”, “You’re very quiet today” or “why have you not be showing up lately?”. In general, people with depression do not have a good answer to these kinds of questions. Being asked them during a game just makes me feel guilty and like I’m taking away others fun. It tells them that they are affecting your gameplay in a negative manner or that they don’t belong. This is just how a depressed person’s mind works, even though the questions are asked with good intentions. If they want to open up to you, they will. Instead you can let them know that you’re enjoying them being at game night, or that you are happy to see them.
- Be patient. Analysis paralysis is not enjoyable however many people with depression make take long time to make decisions. While it is not a symptom I personally struggle with, many people have a symptom of depression that slows the decision making process down. This may effect game play but it will help that person significantly if the other players demonstrate patience with them. Really in the end, a minute wait time is not going to ruin the game.
- Try to be understanding if they seem irritable or upset throughout the game. Games are supposed to be fun, and despite that fact a person with depression may get frustrated or upset while playing if they make a bad mood or they have an adverse effect. Unless they are lashing out at another player, try not to point it out or say anything. Chances are they are already aware of the outburst and are embarrassed by it. People with depression spend most of their time trying to put on a mask to seem normal, if the mask slips let them be. If they are lashing out at another player, ask them to take a minute to get a drink or walk away for a second in a calm non-accusing voice. Do not follow them away or try to coddle them. They will find their bearings and most likely return back with a better outlook.
- Treat them like any other players. A person with depression who board games enjoys it for the same reasons as any other players. Do not try to go easy on them, do not avoid attacking them and do not avoid them like the plague. Play as you usually would and have a good time. Your happiness and excitement will spread.
Remember this is just from my experience having depression myself, and being an organizer for a game night. These tips won’t work for everyone, but do give a good general overview of things that may help. Those of you looking to help are wonderful souls and part of the reason the gaming community is such a healthy place for people with mental illnesses. Once again, if you have any questions on the subject always feel free to email me via the contact page.