On twitch, you are not just a content creator but also a community leader. After over a year, 50+ interviews, and countless hours of preparation, combined with my training as a mental health first aid provider, a NoStigmas ally, and an Ambassador for Takethis.org, I’m at a place where people solicit my advice and help on how to advocate for mental health. Since the idea behind my own streams was—the more people talk about the subject of mental health, the less touchy it gets—I am honored to help continue to encourage the effort. It’s also why I feel it’s vital I answer any questions which arise when someone who is not a mental health professional is looking to breach the a complicated topic.
There is a tasteful way to start these conversations, one that will not turn away your viewers and isn’t harmful to those who are seeking help. Here are some of the lessons I have learned that I hope you find useful.
Do: Discuss your experience in order to normalize the mental illness and reduce stigma
You might not be a professional, but you are a professional in your own journey. Sharing your own story, if you have the kind of community who wants to hear about it and you know will be supportive, can be an incredible bonding experience. Some topics require very little outside understanding—such as how it was to put yourself out there in front of a therapist for the first time, or how you feel about needing to take medication (if applicable), and likely to help at least one person in your community feel less alone in their journey.
Don’t: Try to “fix” people
It should go without saying that if professionals sometimes have a hard time helping people going through a hard time, you may be biting off more than you can chew if you try to do the same. Just because something worked for you, it doesn’t mean it will work for someone else.
Just because you want to help and someone wants advice, it doesn’t mean they are ready to hear someone give it to them. Sometimes people ask for opinions, but what they are really looking for is validation. Furthermore, if you are not feeling well, your advice, although well-meaning, might not be as helpful as it is when you are at your best. Think about it, if you cannot soothe yourself at times, and all of us have let our friends down at some moment, how can you help someone you are likely to have even less of a personal connection with? It’s not fair for either of you to hold that expectation.
Do: Set expectations prior to starting a discussion
A great way to go about this is to give your viewers a goal for your discussion. Make it clear before you start the subject. Are they there to listen, to console, or validate you?
So, start off your spiel with a warning: “Let me just talk about this for a moment” or “I really need your input here.” If you are unclear as to what that might be, maybe it’s unfair to expect your audience to react in a productive way to you. Be honest with yourself. If you are not in a place to receive feedback/advice from people on the internet, it might not be a great idea to start asking for it.
Don’t: Vent off to your audience
There is a good way to talk about our issues and bad days, but there is also a very unproductive alternative. Venting is simply the act of getting something off your chest. I would say it’s closest to “getting on a soapbox” about something you are passionate about. If someone mistreated you or you see an injustice in the world, it’s more than fair to comment on it and offer an opinion.
Where things might become a turn-off to others is when you are leaning on people who might not want to and are likely not in a place to receive them. Put yourself in your viewer’s shoes, would you pay to watch such a show?
Do: Support someone going through a tough time by advising them where and how to get help
This one is simple. Be sure to have links to resources available. Either create a list or find one from the incredible resources that are accessible at our fingertips. Here are a few great reliable sources to get you started. Be sure to have an emergency service that you can easily direct people to go as well.
Don’t: Lead someone through a professional method you read about or advise of medication you may have taken.
Just don’t. Everything about this is a bad idea and legal nightmare.
Do: Train your mods so that they can help diffuse emergency situations
If you are going to be talking about mental health, your moderators are also going to have to be ok with talking about mental health. Ask them and ensure that they are okay to handle tough conversations and will not be turned off. A good way to make sure that no one is unpleasantly surprised in a critical situation is to offer them access to reliable resources. If you know you are going to be chatting about mental health frequently, consider asking them to complete a Mental Health First Aid course or the free NoStigmas training. If an emergency situation comes up, it’s always best to diffuse it away from live chat, and you don’t want your moderator in a 1-on-1 conversation they were not prepared to handle.
Don’t: Expect your mods to take care of people who need emergency attention
Your mods are there to protect your community. That in no way makes them qualified to truly help someone. Different people will handle things differently, but if someone is not prepared they are not likely to react in a helpful manner (see above).
Do: Take breaks from helping others
Sympathy fatigue is a real issue for mental health professionals and that means it can affect you too. Sure, you might not be giving out advice or directly helping people work through their issues (because you’re awesome and are paying attention to all of the above), but that doesn’t mean you can’t just feel tired. You have your personal life issues to contend with. Life, work, hustle—it looks great on an Instagram post, but it’s exhausting to live through. Someone who is tired is more likely to make mistakes, less likely to have patience, and is overall unlikely to be helpful. Don’t be tired, be awesome. Take a break.
Don’t: Take all of this advice as the only way to help people
These just an outline of things that I had to, in many cases, learn the hard way. What that likely means is that you will also insist on learning some things the hard way. People who are giving and empathic tend to believe that they can take on everything and heal everyone. I know this because I certainly believe it too. I don’t blame you, but that’s why it’s all the more important to look out for ourselves as much as we help others.
Thanks for reading! If you ever see me around on twitch, be sure to wave hello and let me know I am waving back to a fellow advocate.