Potential for support network beneficial for mental health
By: Kyle Prince and Monica Mah
Humans are, at heart, social animals. It comes as no surprise that we tend to gather in groups, that we seek communities and use them to help define who we are. The Kwantlen Gaming Guild, Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s largest student club in terms of membership, provides this sense of belonging for its members, allowing them to congregate over their shared affiliation for gaming.
As Tanvir Singh, the KGG’s vice-president, puts it, “We’ve noticed that a lot of people in the club have come for a community to be themselves.” He also speaks to the stigma that surrounds gaming culture, and those who indulge in it.
On the Richmond campus, for example, there wasn’t a specific space for gamers, so the KGG would gather wherever they could find room. Unfortunately, this led to confrontations with other students who would try to force people to relocate through intimidation, or attempt to demean the gamers as they walked by. This could, in part, explain how the group became so tight-knit—by joining an open and accepting community, one that, rather than judging them for their interests, actually embraced their love of gaming, members could feel a sense of nurturing within the Guild.
According to Singh, there are some members of the Guild who came to them feeling like outcasts, and even a few who admitted to feeling suicidal before joining. “It’s not the club in and of itself, it’s the community. These people are able to use their common thing—the one thing that brought everyone together was gaming—and help [those with suicidal thoughts] get through their depression, or whatever it was at the time.”
While no one in the Gaming Guild has the qualifications to offer serious psychological help to people suffering from depression, the community they offer can help bolster a depressed person’s spirits, or offer them a respite from an otherwise stress-filled environment.
“We’ve kind of evolved into a group that really cares about each other,” says Singh.
Richard LeGrand, a psychology instructor at KPU, thinks the social connections people make in the Gaming Guild, as well as other on-campus groups, are a great resource for students, whether they’re suffering from depression or not. “There’s a lot of research to suggest that whenever it comes to mental health, one of the most important things is a strong social network and communication,” he says.
LeGrand does caution, though, that a sense of community alone is not enough to disregard professional help. “There’s nothing wrong with talking to people about your problems—my concern would be if people are offering advice when they don’t have the proper background.”
There are resources available where students can seek professional help with a plethora of issues they might be facing. There are counsellors right here at Kwantlen who can be a tremendous help in either working through a problem themselves or refer you to someone with a proper background in your area. “It’s one thing to be talking about it with other people, but you should probably be going to see a doctor about it [if it’s serious],” says LeGrand.
Jennifer Lingbaoan, one of the coordinators for the Peer Support program, a group dedicated to offering Kwantlen students access to support and community resources, also agrees that the Guild’s social connections can be a real benefit for students going through a difficult period in their lives. “The KGG provides that sort of space where, at least right now, the individuals involved know that there is a safe space they can go to,” she says.
While the Peer Support program hopes to be able to work with groups such as the Gaming Guild and other organizations across Kwantlen, the end goal is to have those groups approach them, and let them know about student members who might need their help.
Singh provides a specific example of how his club has helped at least one student through some troubled times, though he withholds the student’s name for privacy. Singh claims that this student had a difficult time throughout high school, ostracized by most, which Singh believes is common amongst gamers. Since joining the Gaming Guild, however, this student has “opened up,” and bonded with other Guild members over their love of gaming, which has helped lower his anxiety and overall sadness.
“A lot of the people in the room don’t have classes today,” says Singh, referring to the other gamers occupying the clubs/social justice room in the Birch building. “They just come in on their days off and they come whenever they can because they know this is a place where they can go to play video games and not get yelled at for being home all day.”
Members of the Gaming Guild have discussed the idea of referring students to the Peer Support program if someone in their club is open about their mental illness, or if they simply have a problem they don’t feel they can contend with. The Peer Support program, for their part, are also open to sending students who seek their help to a club like the Gaming Guild if they believe that person would benefit from a supportive social atmosphere.
“We would love that,” says Singh. “Problem is, none of us are experts on it. I’m actually a psychology student so I know that the requirements of that individual would need to be quite high.”
LeGrand also cites the Kwantlen Psychology Society as another student-led resource for anyone looking to talk with someone about their problems. As the KPS is largely made up of upper-level psychology students, they are more likely to have experience in helping people or, at least, assisting people in finding the help they need.
While joining a student club and finding friends is only one small step in addressing your social or mental health, LeGrand reaffirms the notion that this small step could still be greatly beneficial. “Imagine someone is suffering from depression or anxiety disorder,” she says, “Joining in the Gaming Guild would be fantastic in terms of interacting with others, getting a social network, and learning to talk about their feelings. I think that’s really important.”