Mental Health & Your Stream Community
Whether you’re laughing through another Fortnite game or grinding out your Overwatch rank, your streams are an awesome part of many people’s days. Viewers feel comfortable in their favorite stream communities filled with friends they’ve made, shared jokes, and great memories – it makes sense that streams can be a big support for people dealing with life stress. Sometimes people don’t have a lot of other supports and they might turn to your stream community to talk about their mental health struggles, like depression, anxiety, PTSD, trauma, or suicidal thoughts.
You are a big part of many people’s lives and you love your community, but you’re not a mental health expert. Are there ways you can use your super powers as a “social influencer” for the greater good by supporting the mental health of your streaming community? Yes.
Can you be a mental health ally while still having healthy boundaries where you can focus on your content or not have to be responsible for fixing the problems people bring up? Absolutely.
Can you discuss mental health issues without it being therapy or becoming a really depressing space? Of course!
Here are tips on how to best support the mental health of your community while still maintaining healthy boundaries and keeping your community a safe, uplifting, and fun space.
How to Be a GREAT Mental Health Ally
Maybe you have lived with depression, anxiety, OCD, or you know family members or friends who live with mental disorders. You know how debilitating it can be and you know the awful stigma around mental health and emotional struggles. Not only does stigma cause further harm, but it shames people out of getting the professional help that could change their life or even save their life.
How do you go about being an excellent mental health ally? Here are some Do’s and Don’ts:
Do encourage people to get professional mental health support if they voice interest in it. A lot of people fear being shamed or being looked at as weak or stupid if they get professional support. If you encourage them, you are communicating to them and everyone watching that they deserve to get professional help when they need it. Just saying you're glad they're doing things to take care of their wellbeing is great.
Do post mental health resources and crisis hotline resources in your info panels and/or on your Discord server. Feel free to use Coco's extensive Crisis Resources & Hotlines List if you don't have your own resources.
Do feel free to talk about your own experiences with mental health or emotional difficulties, only as much as you feel comfortable. Sometimes streamers feel the need to pretend to be perfect, but sometimes showing people that you are as real and vulnerable as them can be incredibly inspiring and uplifting. Knowing that you're not the only one who goes through this and that a streamer that they look up to and admire also has emotional struggles can be really comforting and healing.
Do make it a supportive, safe space for people to share their experiences. Affirm people’s vulnerability by expressing your appreciation for their strength and resilience in navigating what they are going through. If you want to keep difficult conversations light, focusing on how the person is demonstrating good self-awareness, a willingness to grow or self-care, any positive behaviors they're doing (like going to treatment), and any positive or adaptive thoughts they're sharing can be great ways of keeping these conversations inspiring and uplifting.
Do focus on being a good friend or caring listener to people, it isn't your responsibility to fix everyone's problems. Just being a great listener who is non-judgmental, respectful, and empathic can do more good for people than you know. Sometimes when we try to fix things for people when they haven't asked us to help or give advice can communicate a lack of faith in the person and can be even belittling or paternalistic. Staying on your own lawn and having healthy boundaries is the healthy way to help people.
Don’t allow other folks in chat to minimize someone’s struggles by saying those typical, really wrong, disparaging mental health misconceptions, like “you gotta be strong,” “you just can’t let that get to you,” "people need to stop being so sensitive," “you need to stop being [insert derogatory word here, like lazy, weak, a pussy, etc],” and so on. Use time outs or address these comments verbally or in chat.
Don’t allow people to shame or talk poorly about people who have mental health disorders or people who are getting mental health treatment. Time out or take the time to address these stigmatizing and condemning types of statements.
Don’t allow people to make ignorant, flippant statements about actual mental disorders, like “I’m soooo OCD, I love to organize my videogame collection” or “that’s so psycho.” Take a moment to share how those statements belittle folks with mental disorders, minimize the reality and difficulty of those disorders, and perpetuates stigma that keeps people from getting help. You don’t need to be all preachy about it either. A simple, “dude, unless you have an actual diagnosis of OCD, we can’t be making jokes about real mental disorders” is great.
Don’t minimize people’s mental health difficulties by telling them they “just gotta do XYZ” to make things all better. A lot of people have heard it all and are probably better informed than you about what things help their mental disorder. Don't offer help unless asked. And if they ask, use the next section's recommendations to be a great support.
When Viewers Want Support or to Vent
Whether you’re a stream community that invites deep emotional sharing or you just want to keep things fun and light, it helps to know how you want to handle emotional topics when they invariably come up in chat.
Embracing Emotional Conversations
If you want to have your community be a space where people can open up about personal experiences and mental health struggles, that is great. There are a lot of ways you can foster your community to be a mental health-supportive space on the internet. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts:
- Do be a great listener. Just giving people a space to talk about things without judgement, where they can be accepted can be incredibly powerful. A lot of times people have nowhere they can be themselves or share their experiences and be treated with compassion.
Do share your own experiences where you feel comfortable. This helps people feel connected and like they are not alone in their own trials.
If some is discussing normal life difficulties and stress, like breakups, school, or family trouble, feel free to share your own thoughts, stories, experiences, personal philosophies or beliefs, or even suggestions if they've asked for advice.
Do recommend that the person seek professional mental health help (you can also point them to resources for finding mental health support, like Coco's How to Find Help PDF, if they mention any of the following:
- their mental health problems are making it hard to function (they’re dropping out of school, no relationships, struggling at work, etc)
- they have felt persistent depression, numbness, emptiness, or have no enjoyment or interest in things in life
- they mention having notable emotional or mental health struggles lasting for over a month or two
- if they voice feelings of wanting to harm themselves or others or talk about suicide or wishing their life was over
- if they mention any difficulties with addiction or eating disorders
- if they say that they've been wondering about whether or not they have a mental disorder
If someone is talking about more serious emotional difficulties, like actual mental disorders, do feel free to talk about your own personal experiences. You can even mention what helped you, personally, or people you know. You can mention things that helped you manage your own symptoms, but make it clear that you're sharing those things as personal experiences, NOT as formal recommendations that all people with that disorder should try. Try “yoga was really helpful for my brother’s depression” rather than saying “yoga is really great for depression.” Some people have amazing transformations from yoga, that doesn't mean the science supports that yoga cures depression.
If someone is talking about more serious emotional difficulties (like the 6 points mentioned above that indicate the need for professional help), don’t make recommendations for treatment or give advice unless you are a professional or extremely well-informed. I don’t care if vitamin D cured your depression in 6 hours or if your aunt’s extreme anxiety was remedied by a kale bath – NO DIRECT RECOMMENDATIONS UNLESS YOU ARE A PROFESSIONAL or have thoroughly researched a topic in credible scientifically-valid resources (if you aren't sure what those are, that's okay, but don't provide recommendations). Why is this so important? Spreading misinformation and bad treatment recommendations only interferes with people being able to effectively manage their mental health problems, can make them lose hope about ever being able to overcome their disorders, and can delay or even dissuade them from getting professional help that could really help change their lives.
How to Handle Intense Stories
Sometimes when discussing mental health related topics, particularly difficult topics can come up, like sexual assault, abuse, traumas, war experiences, and more. These and similar topics can be incredibly intense to even hear about and can trigger people with trauma histories to relive their own memories, emotional pain, and distress. You have every right to decide what topics are welcome to be discussed and in what detail they can be talked about in your community, for whatever reason. Your channel, your rules.
You might decide you’re okay with mentioning certain traumatic experiences, but you can ask someone to limit the explicit details about it in order to minimize how distressing it is to others. You don’t even have to give a reason, you can simply say, “Hey, we’re totally cool talking about that here, but try to limit specific details, please. Thanks!”
It is your channel. You get to decide where your boundaries are.
If You Want to Keep Your Chat Light
There is absolutely nothing wrong if you want to keep things chill and minimize emotionally difficult or heavy conversations in your chat, that’s totally okay. There are a million types of streams and you can make whatever space you want for your community. If a viewer starts bringing heavy or intense emotional stuff up in chat and it isn’t quite what you want for your streams, there are a few ways of handling it.
Say something empathic and wish them well, then redirect the conversation to whatever you'd rather focus on. “Sorry to hear that, I hope your day gets better and you get to relax a bit” then address the game or someone else in chat. For example, “that sucks hear, man. Hope you start to feel better soon. We’ve actually been making some progress on this new Path of Exile build though – I’ve been rolling with…”
You have the right to choose whether or not you want to respond to heavier emotional comments. You are under no obligation to attend to the person's emotional needs, you are not being selfish if you choose to exercise your right to focus on your immediate goal: the game, having a fun stream, or whatever. Remember, you're not the only one in chat and other people can choose to respond to the person.
If someone insists on discussing heavy topics, you can just communicate openly with them and let them know you streams are generally a space to relax and keep things light. You can ask folks having intense or heavy conversations to take it to whispers. You can even add that if they have some stuff they need to talk about, “here are some stream channels where people can talk about that stuff or here are some crisis hotlines to use.” You can even have a mod whisper them to communicate this privately as well.
Remind yourself that you are not a bad person if you don't want to or cannot engage people in difficult emotional conversations on your stream. Everyone has the right to set their own personal boundaries and moderate their stream the way they see fit. This isn't you being selfish or heartless, this is you doing the sometimes difficult work of prioritizing your needs and maintaining your own boundaries. No need to feel guilty unless you're doing things to actively shame or stigmatize folks with emotional difficulties or mental health disorders (refrain from any of the Don'ts in this document and you'll be doing pretty solid).
When People are in Crisis
Sometimes folks will be in crisis and will come into your chat and lay it all out there, sometimes even talking about suicide. If someone is really upset or talking about wanting to harm or end their own life, this can obviously be upsetting and disruptive to other viewers and the general focus of your stream, especially if you’re looking to create a calm, chill, fun environment. How do you help without turning your chat into a crisis hotline live stream?
Have Crisis Resources Available
A lot of times people don’t even know where to get help or they don’t know what help is available so they end up sharing their emotional distress wherever they can, like your channel. They don’t know where to find crisis or suicide hotlines. Just having a link to a list of crisis hotlines that you can put in chat on a command, like !help, can be fantastic. Mods can whisper the person with the link if you prefer. You can also have the link to crisis hotlines in the info panels of your channel or in your Discord if you want to more visibly support and advocate for the mental health needs of your community.
You can find your own international hotlines link or use Coco's crisis hotlines PDF as it has many international hotlines, which is important given the worldwide audience of live streams.
Practice Compassionate & Healthy Boundaries
You aren’t required to let someone usurp your chat simply because they are in major distress. Setting boundaries with people in chat doesn’t mean you don’t care, it means you are being responsible to the other community members, sticking to your goals as a streamer, and demonstrating healthy boundaries in personal and professional settings.
If people are in major distress and they are having some serious struggles in their life, they need professional help. They might insist on wanting to talk about it in your chat and not with a professional. The problem is, if someone has a broken arm, they need a doctor, not a stream chat. If someone has a serious mental health problem, they need a professional, not a stream chat. Telling someone, "that sounds really difficult and if you're having that much pain, it is really important you call a crisis line or get professional help. Twitch chats aren't either of those and you deserve to get the support you need. You need more than a Twitch chat right now."
If They Keep Dumping in Chat
If you want to do right by your community, insisting that people communicate serious problems to well-trained mental health professionals is the best thing you can do. But what if they want to keep using you and your channel as their crisis line or therapy space? "I know I said this already, but when you're at that level of distress, you deserve to get the professional help when you're feeling like this. It is crisis line time, not Twitch chat time."
You might even need to timeout or ban people if they insist on continuing to talk about their severe mental health problems in chat rather than to the people you recommended they contact. If they are discussing their intent or plan to end their life, you also cite Twitch Community Guidelines that prohibit talking making suicidal threats.
How do you do that without feeling like a heartless jerk? Remember, you're not helping someone who needs serious help by sitting around letting them not get professional help. If your friend was having a stroke, you wouldn't let them just chill at your house simply because they insisted on not calling an ambulance. You're being a good person, a good ally when you set boundaries. Being unhealthy and colluding with people avoiding treatment isn't helpful. "But I'm talking to them and trying to help them since they won't get professional help!" Using unhealthy behaviors to try to help someone else's unhealthy behaviors or emotions doesn't magically result in healthiness.
Try a something like, “My #1 priority is that you get the support you need and deserve. My chat isn’t the level of support you need right now and if I let you keep using chat instead of a mental health professional, I’m contributing to you not getting the support you need. So, because I want you to get the RIGHT help, I’m going to have to ban [or time out] you if you continue to discuss these things here because this isn’t what you need or deserve.” You can even whisper this or have a mod send a whisper.
Go Forth and Be Awesome
No matter how intensely or lightly you and your community delve into mental health topics, practicing healthy boundaries and knowing when to recommend professional help is crucial for having good mental health practices for your stream community. Mental health discussions can be some of the most inspiring, uplifting, and empowering conversations, especially when it gives you the opportunity to celebrate the resilience and strength of people while connecting through your shared experiences.