Discussing mental health can sometimes feel like you’re treading on thin ice. It’s a difficulty that arises from each of us being uniquely situated in life while rarely properly equipped to fully understand what others might be going through. The broad scope of mental health also means that there’s a lot of reading up to do if you want to have an informed and empathetic view of what people mean when they refer to “mental health”.
Mental health and mental illness are already tough topics to talk about as they are, but they become even more nuanced when applied to the subject of video games and the gaming community. Video games being a relatively new invention means that studies on how it affects our brains are scarce, yet we see the impact of video games on our lives every day, in ourselves, our loved ones, and even popular streamers, content creators, and video game developers.
Video games can be an addiction or a vice for players, and they can create unhealthy work environments for developers. For streamers and content creators, video games and streaming can also become the platforms through which they’re made vulnerable to online harassment and mean-spirited communities. Video games don’t only affect the way we think and act individually, they also affect how we act as part of a large community of people who identify as gamers.
Despite the many apparent ways that video games can negatively affect people’s lives, it’s rare to see the topic of mental health discussed in popular game media, and sadly it’s only ever brought to light when there’s news of a popular streamer or video game personality passing away after a long fight with mental illness. This year, we suffered the devastating loss of Byron “Reckful” Bernstein, and last year many mourned the loss of Desmond “Etika” Amofah.
With the ever-growing need for discussions on mental health in the gaming community, one psychiatrist is making use of his platforms to raise awareness on mental health and the ways in which we can take care of ourselves while still being able to enjoy our video games. Addiction psychiatrist Dr. Alok Kanojia (or Dr. K as he’s more commonly referred to) and his team at Healthy Gamer are working to make the topic of mental health more accessible to gamers.
On the Healthy Gamer website, Dr. K calls himself a “reformed gamer,” and states that he learned to keep his unhealthy gaming habits under control when they had nearly resulted in him flunking out of college. After having noticed the lack of research on video game addiction, he decided to focus on addressing the issue, and he has since become an addiction psychiatrist whose credentials include a residency at Harvard Medical School.
While his research on video game addiction became the foundation for Healthy Gamer, Dr. K also discusses other mental health topics on his stream and YouTube channel. He’s covered topics such as toxic streamer communities, misogyny among gamers, and the effect of video games on people’s personal lives, to name a few. He also participates in one-on-one and group discussions with popular streamers to give his insights on the many issues that gamers and streamers face in real life.
Dr. K’s streams and videos make mental health discussions accessible to gamers because his history with gaming addiction has allowed him to speak the same language and be on the same page as those who are suffering from it today. Streamers as well as subscribers on his Twitch chat are also able to speak with him openly as he is never dismissive of whatever questions or thoughts they may bring up.
While many subscribers and commenters sing praises of how much Dr. K has helped them with their mental wellness in relation to video games, Dr. K never claims his work to be a substitute for getting individual professional help. In fact, all of his YouTube videos start off with a disclaimer saying so. For those who are seeking individual professional help, however, Healthy Gamer has also started coaching and family programs (which you can read more about on their site’s home page) to provide assistance to addicted gamers and their loved ones in their recovery.
Now that more and more people are turning to gaming as a means of recreation (and sometimes as a means to escape harsh realities), the work of Dr. K and the Healthy Gamer team has become even more timely. Even if you yourself don’t feel any negative effects from playing video games, there’s a lot of insight you can gain from checking out the streams and videos on Healthy Gamer’s platforms. And if you know anyone who might need some help and advice, you can share it with them too.
While Dr. K’s streams can never be a substitute for personal professional help, his videos serve to help us better understand ourselves and each other with regards to our gaming habits. When you know how to take care of your own mental health and be considerate of others’, it does all of us a whole lot of good, even outside the realm of gaming.
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