The AFK Room at PAX Prime: Awareness of Mental Health Issues.
I am volunteering as a clinician supporting attendees at Seattles PAX Prime 2014 who come into the Take This AFK Room. Take This is a non-profit charity founded in 2012 by veteran journalists Russ Pitts and Susan Arendt and clinical psychologist Dr. Mark Kline, Psy.D. in response to the tragic suicide of a colleague. Their mission is promoting awareness and education for mental health issues in and for the gaming community, advocating empathy for those suffering from emotional distress with the goal of eradicating the stigma of mental illness.
The AFK Room’s purpose is to provide the attendees of PAX Prime 2014 with a safe space, a island of calm in the chaotic storm of people, and flood of sensory input that is one of the two largest gaming events in North America, the other being PAX East in Boston.
The AFK Room is being staffed by 2-3 Mental Health Professionals during all operating hours, and offers people a place where they can sit quietly and talk, tune out the crush, or seek an empathetic ear should they find themselves in need of emotional support. In addition, as PAX is an event presenting sometimes controversial, confrontational or polarizing content, as well as many highly competitive events, the possibilities for emotional flooding and triggering of existing mental health concerns are high.
In the first 3 hours of the rooms operation I and my fellow clinicians welcomed over 100 attendees, many came simply to escape the crowd—others arrived in the beginnings of anxiety attacks, or suffering the pains of being a introvert in event with tens of thousands of people. We offered a cool glass of water, a place to sit down, and as needed someone with the skills to help them calm the immediate sense of crisis.
The core mission of Take This rang strong for me, coming on the cusp of the #Act4MentalHealth National Day of Action on September 4th, and Mental Illness Awareness Week the first week of October. Many of our visitors were given a moment of compassionate acceptance of need, great or small, free from judgement or embarrassment. In my opinion, as both a clinician and a member of the gaming culture, these were moments of beauty that should exist for everyone—every day, knowing you are not alone.
If you find yourself at a point in life where emotions have become overwhelming, thoughts have become negative or chaotic, or in a place where some pressure is creating discomfort, know that You are NOT alone! Seek a trusted friend, reach out to a counselor/therapist, or contact your local crisis line. If you are in the Seattle area, I would be happy to hear from you, and you can reach the 24 hour King County Crisis line at 866-427-4747
If you want to know how to be a friend and ally to someone in emotional crisis, please take a look at How to be A Friend on the Take This website.