It’s hard to believe it’s already been a week since Planet Comicon Kansas City – the weekend passed by in such a blur! So many amazing people, costumes, panels, vendors…it truly is an adventure. In fact, so much so, that I will be breaking my recap up into two posts. This first post will cover some highlights from the Geeks and Mental Health panel I organized and moderated.
On Sunday of Planet Comicon, I hosted a panel discussion called “A New Hope: Geeks and Mental Health.” I was joined by:
- Erica Williams, cosplayer, mental health advocate, and board member of the Greater Kansas American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Chapter (AFSP)
- Megan Deaver, cosplayer and mental health professional
- Sean Nicholson, cosplayer and caregiver
The panel stems from a post I wrote called, aptly: “Geeks & Mental Health: A New Hope.” Erica commented on the post and we connected via email, where she shared that it was her dream to get a mental health panel on a con docket. Through some of my connections, we launched the panel at Kansas City Comic Con (KCCC) last year. It went well enough that I also submitted it to Planet for another round, and was accepted.
At KCCC, we had an early time slot on Friday, and about 10 people attended. At Planet, we had a Sunday slot, and about *60* people attended. Including a reporter from Fox4, who interviewed both Erica and I about the panel. BIG and welcome surprise!
Instead of discussing a list of questions I had prepared, this time we opened with an audience Q&A, so we could be sure to address the topics and concerns everyone had. We wound up doing that for the whole hour. Some topic highlights:
Mental health resources for teachers: Someone asked if there are any resources for teachers to address mental health in the classroom. I talked about the local Kansas City SPEAK UP organization, and their “You Be You” campaign, and Erica mentioned that AFSP also offers education programs.
How to incorporate geekery/fandoms into therapy: Megan shared that she often hosts therapy sessions in cosplay (e.g. dressed as Belle from Beauty & the Beast), to establish a connection with her clients. It can give the client some comfort, knowing their therapist is into “weird” things too. She also talked about making pop culture references, such as “Supernatural,” in sessions, to further connect, especially with teens.
Impact of social media on mental health: Sean and I both work in social media, and we talked for a while about the facade that social media can perpetuate. It can seem like everyone on Facebook lives a happy, easy life with no problems, but that’s not usually the case. We encouraged people to try to look beyond the facade, and see that everyone struggles, even if it doesn’t seem like it on social media.
The need for self-care: One woman shared her personal story with her experience with depression, and feeling so low that even a shower is an accomplishment. We saw a lot of nods of confirmation in the audience throughout her story. She also spoke of needing to take a step back occasionally and just go for a walk or a drive to gather her inner resources, as well as not spending time with people who don’t support her mental health. Bottom line: you have to take control of your own environment to make it a nurturing place for your own mental health. Erica suggested thinking of self-care as “self-appreciation.”
Open communication about mental health: several people spoke about being very open with others about their mental health, and that those conversations helped others feel comfortable talking about their own mental health. It helps when you know the person you’re talking to really understands what you’re going through.
Medication: Medication can be a helpful tool for addressing mental health needs, but it doesn’t fix problems or make them go away. If you’re in a stressful work or family situation, meds won’t change that. But they can help “level the playing field” so you have a chance to address problems, and be in a better place to face them. [NOTE: medication is only available from licensed medical professionals/psychiatrists, not social workers (MSW/LCSW) or therapists. Mental health professionals, however, can refer you to someone who can prescribe medication, when appropriate.]
Being a proactive “informed patient”: Depression and anxiety (and other conditions) can take their toll, and make you feel like you can’t do anything right, or nothing will make it better. Chances are good that if you don’t try to do anything, nothing will change. You need to be proactive about your own mental health (or encourage a loved one to make efforts), and educate yourself about your own symptoms, triggers, and what resources are available to help. You also need to be your own advocate, especially if those around you aren’t particularly helpful or supportive. If you need help, ask for it and go get it.
Finding your tribe: When you live with mental health issues, it’s easy to hide yourself away and isolate yourself. While some time alone can be good, it can also be very comforting and healing to find others who share your interests and experiences. “The fandom life” can be just the ticket. For women, a great resource is Geek Girl Brunch, an international group where women meet once a month to talk about geeky things over brunch. Fortunately, there is a Kansas City chapter.
You can also find all sorts of geek groups to meet others like yourself on my Kansas City Geek Groups page. Participating in geek groups can help you remember you’re not alone, and give you something to look forward to.
- If you or a loved one is in crisis, call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
- If you have questions about mental health issues or treatment options, you can call the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
Other mental health resources:
- 20 Doctor Who moments that have helped people
- Is Everything You Think You Know about Depression Wrong?
- Start the Conversation: Depression conversation starters
What other questions would you like to hear addressed at a mental health panel? I expect I’ll keep submitting it to cons as long as people are interested!