Joel has been a goblin that’s secretly an arsonist. He’s face-planted fighting orcs and dated a literal ogre. Here’s how a fantasy role-playing board game helped Joel navigate his own mental illness.
If the subject of mental health raises any concerns for you, please contact the relevant support services listed here.
Dungeons & Dragons is a ridiculous game. To call it a serious exploit would be a disservice to the absurd twenty-sided dice that you roll.
However, despite being such a silly time, I’ve also found it extremely valuable. And not just because it’s a lot of fun to play, it has actually helped me with my anxiety. That’s right, Dungeons & Dragons nudged me to get a routine, open up, and come to terms with my own mental illness.
Back in 2014, my mental health was pretty rubbish. I was having panics, thought spirals, and all that jazz. I also got invited to a Dungeons & Dragons game with my girlfriend and her friend group. I didn’t think about it much at the time.
And it wasn’t like I played Dungeons & Dragons for the first time and became magically less anxious! It was the routine of doing the same thing, every week, that started to help. I think when I have regular activities that I look forward to, I can become less worried. But I’m not the only one that thinks a schedule helps. Beyond Blue says that if you want to support someone with anxiety you should: “Work with the person to re-establish a daily routine that includes enjoyable and/or relaxing activities.”
As I continued playing this game, and hanging out with these folks, I was able to open up about my mental illness with some of them. I was even able to go pretty deep with a couple of people, and they shared their struggles too. I found this support immeasurably beneficial, and it helped me feel less alone. The Kids Helpline says that having “a trusted friend or family member who can encourage you” can be useful if you’re feeling quite anxious.
Playing Dungeons & Dragons led me to watching shows about Dungeons & Dragons. Yup, the slippery slide of fantasy had slid me down to this point. But there was this one show, called Fantasy High, that legitimately changed how I saw my anxiety.
The CollegeHumor web series follows Dungeons & Dragons characters who are high schoolers in the setting of a 1980s-esque town.There’s a character, played by comedy actor Siobhan Thompson, named Adaine Abernant. This character is a high elf and a wizard. She kills demons and fights to save the world. Adaine also has terrible anxiety. She has crippling thought spirals. Siobhan even has to roll a D20 (a 20 on the die) to make sure Adaine doesn’t have panic attacks.
When I saw Siobhan’s character deal with her anxiety, I started to cry. Not because it was poorly done, but because it made me feel less weird. I hadn’t seen a character in a fictional show have the same mental health struggles that I have. It made me think, “If this hero has a similar illness to me, I guess it’s okay that I have one.” Fantasy High legitimately made me feel seen.
A lot of things that I find special about Dungeons & Dragons aren’t actually special to Dungeons & Dragons. You can find a great routine by playing tennis. You can open up to people at your local poetry slam. And there are certainly other shows that productively frame mental illness. However, that being said, I’m still eternally grateful that this game has come into my life. I’m relieved that it helped me reconcile my anxiety.
If you’re struggling with mental illness, I hope that you can talk to a mental health professional about it. But I also hope that you can find your own Dungeons & Dragons. I hope that you find those activities that make your life just that little bit more silly and easy to go through.
If anything in this article raises any concerns or issues for you, please contact Beyond Blue (Ph: 1300 224 636), Lifeline (Ph: 13 11 14) or Headspace (Ph: 1800 650 890). If your life is in immediate danger, please call 000.