Cast Together: Streamers for Mental Health

Streaming has been a passion of mine for over a year now. It’s been tumultuous at times, but always a labor of love. It’s through Twitch that I’ve made some of my closest friends and confidants, and have been welcomed into a community tighter than I ever could have imagined. But it hasn’t been without its struggles either. Every day I see streamers neglecting their mental health for their channel, and I see viewers struggling on their own. It’s because of these experiences, and the stories I’ve heard from others, that I wanted to create Cast Together.

Mental Illness in Gaming

The Twitch community, and indeed the greater gaming community, is a wonderful collective of people from every walk of life, all sharing in a common bond — We’re a bunch of geeks. For many of us, gaming is a way of life; for others, it can be just a simple hobby. But for others still, gaming is a form of escape. It is an opportunity to escape from the mundane or overwhelming nature of our lives, and find freedom — freedom to explore new lands, overcome great enemies, or find victory through strategy.

It is this escapism, this distraction, that often attracts those with mental illness to gaming. Games can provide the depressed with a better reality, the anxious with distraction and calm. And through them, too, we find ways to find each other.

Streamers’ Role

Twitch evolved as a way to bring gamers together. It allows those people who may have felt lonely or marginalized to find others like them, to make friends and share in a common love of gaming. Streamers exist to facilitate that connection. Whether we realize it or not, there are those in our chats who feel alone, and through our actions, we have the power to change that.

There will always be those around us in need of a kind word, or an ear to listen. Rarely, however, will someone come forward and say they’re depressed, or ask for help. If we want to truly help those in our communities, we have to let them know that we’re there for them before they ever need it. By fostering those around us to support each other, we can help ensure that no one in our communities ever feels truly alone.

The Pressure of Streaming

I’ve spoken with many casters on how streaming affects mental health, and it’s always a multifaceted answer. While the friendships made are incredibly valuable, oftentimes stress outweighs the rewards. The pressure to grow leads people into all sorts of mental pitfalls — getting caught up in viewer count, comparing oneself to other streamers, and losing track of the passion for it. And unfortunately, most end up taking away the same conclusion: Stream more.

Streamers at TwitchCon 2016 talking about Mental Health and Streaming. [credit]

Streaming more often feels like the right decision. After all, the reason for your discontent is low stream performance, so you just have to try harder to grow. But growth isn’t immediate — and by streaming more, you’ll quickly find yourself getting more and more frustrated, and faster. That frustration comes across when you’re live, and it doesn’t attract more people, and soon you find yourself in an endless feedback loop of burnout.

In actuality, often the best thing you can do is stream less. Take breaks. Let yourself relax. Remind yourself why you love what you’re doing, and start to appreciate the people who show up more. And most importantly, talk about it. Viewers will understand if you tell them you need some time for your mental health— in fact, they’ll often appreciate it. And finding other streamers, friends, to vent to will help reassure you that you’re not alone. That’s part of what Cast Together is for.

Burnout is common among streamers, but a just a part of mental health issues often struggled with. There’s a wide spectrum, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anorexia, ADHD, and more (I’m really, really sorry if I didn’t mention your mental illness, I want to be as inclusive as possible).

People with each of these exist on Twitch. And almost certainly, at some point or another, every one of them has felt alone, or like no one understood them. By getting streamers to talk openly about their mental illness, we can provide a voice to those who have felt alone. We can provide comfort to those in need. We can help those who suppress their feelings to be more candid, and to talk about it themselves — And talking about it helps.

Okay, but what is Cast Together going to do?

We talk about it. We’ve brought together a group of 20+ streamers (and constantly growing) with mental illness willing to share their stories. And we plan help them to do so in a variety of ways.

We’re kicking off the initiative with a weekend of streams talking about mental illness, playing games, and raising money for suicide prevention through Project Semicolon. Their CEO, Michael Shields, has said that he’s excited for the initiative, and has offered to send out shirts and other gear, as well as register their organization on Tiltify.

Moving forward, we want to actively promote mental health in the Twitch community. We hope to share videos and articles from streamers discussing their personal history with mental illness, and encourage others to talk about it more. And we hope to bring people together so that they always have someone they can reach out to.

If you’re interested in joining in, anyone can stream to the CastTogether Twitch Community this weekend, and raise money for mental health — we’ll be promoting participants on twitter, and encouraging others to host and raid channels in the community. To get involved in the community in other ways, seek help, or offer an kind ear, DM CastTogether or myself on Twitter.

We still have a long way to go in creating an open dialogue on mental health. But it starts here. By making sure that no one in our community has to feel alone. By casting together.

Special thanks to Ishman223 for pushing me to take this all the way, in memory of his friend Will. And thanks to all the other friends and streamers supporting me up to this point.

Mark “NotSoSpeedRuns” Speedy is Twitch streamer who likes to take things slow. Focused on indies, tabletop, and mental health in gaming.

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