NSGP and Mental Illness

NSGP and Mental Illness
I’ve been playing NationStates since 2008, and have been involved in NSGP since the start of 2011. In that time I’ve met many players who suffer from some form of mental illness, and a large number of them have suffered negative in game impacts as a result. I’m one of those players; I was first diagnosed with mental illness in 2011 following a major incident of clinical depression leading to a failed suicide attempt. The vast majority of people who suffer from mental illness do so in private, hiding their illness from those around them; in extreme cases hiding it from friends and family. They do so for a variety of reasons, but the most common one is fear of stigma; individuals suffering from mental illness face negative social consequences as a direct result, unlike any other person fighting a chronic illness. This is not only in terms of personal impact in terms of ostracism, harassment and abuse, but also more serious professional impacts; mental illness is a more severe barrier to employment than physical disability, and many sufferers find it necessary to hide their illness from employers. The best comparison which can be made between the stigma faced by those suffering from mental illness and a physical illness is that faced by carriers of HIV/AIDS in the 1980’s and early 1990’s; the disease was first referred to as GRID, or Gay-Related Immune Deficiency, and diagnosis would commonly lead to devastating personal and professional consequences. Whilst the stigma relating to sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV/AIDS in particular, has now largely faded in the western world mental illness still caries heavy stigma. This is highly problematic, not only in terms of the direct negative consequences but also in regards to the consequences attempts to avoid it produce. Failure to disclose illness, and attempts to hide the symptoms, not only prevents the individual suffering from receiving effective treatment but denies them a key element in regards to any illness, but one of unique importance with mental illness; a supportive, safe environment in which to recover, and healthy relationships with individuals who are sufficiently well informed to note relapses and provide the much needed support. Due to the emotional elements common to all forms of mental illness, the existence of such an environment is often more crucial to a patients recovery and long term health than any professional care or treatment they may be receiving.

This is of particular importance to online communities like NationStates for one simple reason; escapism. The number of people participating in online communities who suffer from mental illness is abnormally high, individuals who have difficulty interacting in normal social situations – for example, the mentally ill – find relief and succour in an environment where the lack of personal contact allows them to form personal relationships that they could not otherwise develop. The ability to hide their illness, and to thus pose as “normal” is particularly attractive to people who commonly face stigma in their lives. Whilst this would appear to be a positive thing if taken at face value – providing a chance to interact with others normally to people who would otherwise lack it – it is in fact highly dangerous. Whilst these “normal”, non stigmatic interactions may seem to meet the criteria of a supportive, safe environment which can provide the needed emotional support and personal interaction to combat mental illness they do not; the very attraction they have to those seeking to avoid stigma, the ability to hide their illness, means that they cannot provide genuinely effective support. It is impossible to spot the symptoms of illness, or provide the support needed to combat them, if an individual is hiding them; in an online community doing so is highly effective. You may be interacting with an individual who is seriously, critically ill on a daily basis and have no idea; you may be their principle form of emotional support, and yet unable to provide exactly what they need to remain healthy. There are numerous cases in NSGP where players have suffered severe mental breakdowns, leading to crisis situations, with no one being aware of the problem prior to the incident.

The irony of the situation is that the very reason why online communities cannot provide the emotional support needed to players suffering from mental illness is their own, reasonable, attempts to maintain anonymity and escape stigma; by hiding their illness, they prevent growth in awareness of the issue and provide the illusion of isolation to other sufferers. If awareness of the problems associated with mental illness was greater then online communities would be better able to provide a nurturing, safe environment where people could be open about their illness without facing stigma – it is ignorance, rather than malice, that produces hostile communities and individuals in the vast majority of cases. I have met only a handful of individuals in NSGP who I would describe as being genuinely malicious and hostile in regards to mental illness, with the most players being supportive once aware and informed of the problems I face. If more players were open and honest about their health problems then awareness would be much greater and stigma lesser, and there would be limited reason to hide mental illness; this is, of course, a catch-22 situation. For NSGP to become a safe, supportive environment players with mental illness must be willing to be open about it; for players to be willing to be open about it, it must become a safe, supportive environment. When I first pitched this lecture to the NSWF organisation committee I had hoped to be able to include the accounts and experiences of other players suffering from mental illness; however, those I approached consistently declined, wishing to keep their health problems secret. I myself changed my mind about writing this lecture several times, ultimately leading to my lecture being listed as something else – at the time the committee released the schedule I had backed out from this topic, and I only committed to writing this on the day.

The reason why I choose to focus on the relationship between NSGP and mental illness, rather than NationStates in general and mental illness, is due to the fact that NSGP is a particularly toxic and personal area of NS. The fact that NSGP is toxic is so well known that it has quite literally become a joke, but this toxicity has the potential to be seriously dangerous when combined with undisclosed mental illness; incidents and attitudes that would normally be a mere irritancy for other players can directly lead to a crisis situation when emotionally unstable and vulnerable players are involved. In 2012 I, and a number of other players, inadvertently caused a mental breakdown in another player. Our actions were entirely normal for NSGP, and were not intentionally malicious – in any other situation they would have not caused any real life consequences, or caused a crisis situation to develop. In this case, when we were interacting with a player suffering from mental illness they added sufficient extra stress to pre-existing problems that they caused an anxiety attack and led to an attempted suicide. Whilst the player in question was ultimately fine, the entire incident could have been avoided had NSGP been a sufficiently supportive environment that we were aware of the problems.

It is not the duty or responsibility of players in NSGP to look after the health of others – nor am I arguing that it should be. Nor should my discussion of this issue be taken as a criticism of anyone. On the whole NSGP is not a bad place, and as I have said above I have found most people to be supportive once aware and informed. The log bellow is an example of a crisis situation which occurred to me in 2013, and is indicative of a community that is not intentionally malicious or harmful;[/font]

[spoiler][06:47] == Bel [XXX] has joined #balder
[06:48] <Bel> Is nes still arund##
[06:48] <Rach> no
[06:48] <Rach> he just went to bed
[06:49] <Rach> actually
[06:49] <Rach> he is still online
[06:49] <Bel> snyoneuk ease ==d woukd eb teekm but it livees closest to me]
[06:49] <Bel> 45 mins wallk no moew]
[06:50] <Bel> I need him to call abnd abuslueabce
[06:50] <Bel> the address is 132 sttion road
[06:50] <Bel> It
[06:51] <Bel> Uf I tthrew uo
[06:51] <Rach> :confused:
[06:51] == NES [XXX] has joined #balder
[06:51] == mode/#balder +o NES] by ChanServ
[06:51] <Bel> moSTR OF THE PILLS
[06:51] <NES> Ta Da
[06:51] <Prussia> p
[06:52] <Libetarian_Republics> o/
[06:52] <Rach> 01:50 Bel I need him to call abnd abuslueabce 01:50 Bel the address is 132 sttion road 01:50 Bel It 01:51 Bel Uf I tthrew uo
[06:52] <Bel> i DON;kniw how many staued diwb]
[06:52] <NES> What?!
[06:53] <Bel> It’‘s gag reaction, yes]
[06:53] <Bel> I wasalways hsit with pils
[06:53] <Bel> myu housemaye is dcoming layer but IU b;t thus on him
[06:54] <Bel> I feell like passning out
[06:54] <Prussia> wtf
[06:54] <Prussia> Are you okay?
[06:54] <Bel> All my ;limbss are heavy
[06:54] <Prussia> Call 911 dude
[06:54] <Bel> I threw up like 2/3’;s
[06:54] <Prussia> If you can type, you can dial the phone
[06:54] <NES> 999
[06:54] <NES> He’s British
[06:54] <Prussia> I wont have you die on me!
[06:54] <NES> No idea where he lives though
[06:54] <Prussia> I need you to reply to my post!
[06:54] <Rach> Ya, Bel, call 999
[06:55] <Bel> ut i’m falling asleep ane won;t wake mauyve
[06:55] <Bel> U cab;t
[06:55] <Prussia> Call them damnit!
[06:55] <Bel> I can barely type
[06:55] <Bel> 132 station rd noitngham
[06:55] <Bel> beeston
[06:55] <Bel> NES is bear me
[06:56] <Prussia> Call 999 then
[06:56] <Bel> I think I for a tihrd down
[06:56] <Bel> U had 39
[06:57] <Prussia> Its what? 6 am there?
[06:57] <Bel> I’m feeling relak sleeoy]
[06:57] <Bel> Pleze
[06:57] <Rach> normal sleepy?
[06:57] <Rach> or OD sleepy?
[06:57] <Bel> Someone cakll
[06:58] <Bel> I cant typr
[06:59] <Rach> what did you take?
[06:59] <Rach> sleeping pills?
[06:59] <Bel> Bur i tink i CNA GET THE FROnt door opem
[06:59] <Bel> Yes/
[06:59] <Rach> and alcohol?
[07:00] <Bel> Mirtzapinr and zimmovane
[07:00] <Bel> ]I dom’t kniw how many
[07:00] <Prussia> well fuck
[07:00] <NES> Why cant you use your phone?
[07:00] <Bel> I threw up twice
[07:00] <Bel> I dun o where i LEFIT IT
[07:00] <Prussia> Do you not have a home phone?
[07:00] <Bel> Or IF I coukd use it#]
[07:00] <Prussia> Youre typing, so i bet you could
[07:01] <Prussia> is it in your jacket?
[07:01] <Prussia> on your dresser?
[07:01] <Bel> Iv tinhk
[07:03] <Prussia> See if you can get it
[07:03] == Milograd [XXX] has joined #balder
[07:03] == mode/#balder +v Milograd] by ChanServ
[07:04] <Bel> found it
[07:04] <Prussia> Good
[07:04] <Prussia> Good
[07:05] == Awe [XXX] has joined #balder
[07:05] == mode/#balder +o Awe] by ChanServ
[07:06] <Prussia> have you called for help?
[07:07] == Codger [XXX] has joined #balder
[07:07] == mode/#balder +v Codger] by ChanServ
[07:07] <Prussia> Bel
[07:07] <Prussia> You there
[07:07] <Prussia> ?
[07:07] <Rach> he might be calling
[07:07] <Prussia> I hope so
[07:08] <Prussia> I certainly do
[07:08] <Rach> ya
[07:08] <Rach> me too
[07:08] <Libetarian_Republics> i was about to sleep too…
[07:08] <Rach> ditto
[07:08] == Codger has changed nick to Ceraser
[07:09] <Prussia> As was I
[07:09] <Prussia> NES, do you really live close to him?
[07:10] <NES> No Im in Somerset
[07:10] <Prussia> Ah
[07:11] <TheIronRebel> it is his name after all
[07:11] <Prussia> ssshhh
[07:11] <TheIronRebel> north east somerset
[07:12] <omgitsjackwtf> everyone in the UK is close to one another
[07:12] <omgitsjackwtf> it’s not even a real country anyway
[07:12] <Rach> it’s 4 countries
[07:12] <Libetarian_Republics> :stuck_out_tongue:
[07:12] <omgitsjackwtf> not even that
[07:12] <omgitsjackwtf> it’s america’s euro outpost
[07:12] <omgitsjackwtf> =D
[07:12] <Rach> ya
[07:12] <Libetarian_Republics> true dat
[07:12] <Rach> to trade with the rest of europe
[07:12] <omgitsjackwtf> and you live in America’s hat =)
[07:12] <omgitsjackwtf> congratulations
[07:13] <omgitsjackwtf> it is truly an honor
[07:13] <omgitsjackwtf> but yeah, which part of London is Somerset in?
[07:13] <omgitsjackwtf> :stuck_out_tongue:
[07:13] * Prussia blinks
[07:15] <omgitsjackwtf> um
[07:16] * omgitsjackwtf reads up
[07:16] <omgitsjackwtf> wtf…
[07:16] <omgitsjackwtf> yeah sorry, just noticed the Bel thing, otherwise wouldn’t have been so flippant about stuff <_<
[07:16] <Milograd> what happened to bel?
[07:16] <Cormac> I kind of figured. It’s okay.
[07:16] <Milograd> :confused:
[07:16] <Prussia> He’s having medical issues
[07:16] <Milograd> is he okay
[07:16] <Prussia> Like major
[07:17] <Milograd> shit
[07:17] <Prussia> We dont know
[07:17] <Prussia> Hes afk
[07:17] <Prussia> We’re hoping he called for medical assistance
[07:17] == AMOM [XXX] has joined #balder
[07:17] == mode/#balder +v AMOM] by ChanServ
[07:17] <Prussia> God bless him
[07:21] <Prussia> I hope hes okay
[07:21] <omgitsjackwtf> same[/spoiler]
In that incident I had, due to reasons entirely unrelated to NS, taken an overdose of prescription medication and unable to locate my phone or house keys had attempted to get someone on IRC to call an ambulance for me; according to accounts of the incident I received later (I woke up with no memory of going on IRC, and was shocked when I found the log) someone did, though by the time they arrived I had fallen unconscious and they did not force entry. Obviously I survived the incident; I have chosen to share the log, despite the personal nature of it, because of what it shows. The players who I interacted with during the incident were uniformly sympathetic and understanding, and attempted to help me. Similarly, during the 2012 incident I and others involved attempted to provide help to the player in question, and successfully located them and ensured they were safe. NS, and NSGP, have the makings of a community than can be supportive and nurturing of those of us who suffer from mental illness, and all that is needed for it to become one is for those of us fighting mental illness to be open with those around us. The stigma that we face is primarily passive and self imposed; it is not active hostility and ostracism, but ignorance due to our own lack of honesty.

I chose to write this lecture, despite the significant emotional stress it has caused me, because I am part of the problem; I have, for a variety of reasons, chosen to hide from my illness and hide my illness as much as possible. As I have emphasised, what is needed is openness and transparency; for people to feel comfortable disclosing their illness, so that they can receive the emotional support and understanding they need. It is my hope that by sacrificing my anonymity I can encourage positive debate of the issue and greater awareness, so that other players will feel comfortable in seeking the support they need, assured that they are in an environment that will not stigmatise them.