The past year has been wildly disruptive to community and social relationships. I did not expect to find more community in a year of so much isolation, but that’s what happened with the Mental Fitness Discord Server. It was totally unexpected. I only knew of Discord as something for video games. So when a viewer on Twitch suggested we setup a Discord server for our community, I really didn’t have huge expectations. I figured we’d play Tetris together once or twice and drop it. But it’s really become a valuable resource, an activity community, and fills a major gap in mental health online support communities. Illness is not the prerequisite to join and you don’t need problems to participate. It’s focused on recovery and building great mental health and fitness. Let’s explore five reasons why it’s awesome and unique and such a joy to be part of.
1. We’re focused on recovery and mental health.
You don’t need a diagnosis or a problem to join our community, just like you don’t need to have an Endurance Disorder to join a gym, or a Drowning Disorder to get swimming lessons. Everybody can build and practice skills to do more of the things they want to do in life. We can get awesome at handling difficult feelings and making space for enjoyment. We can develop meditation and mindfulness skills and learn how to invite the brain to sit down and shut up. We can develop healthy ways of interacting with fitness, nutrition, and relationships, growing those in a way that nurtures us. We can learn new hobbies, grow businesses or get back to work after time away, care for our families, practice driving wherever we want to go (even if there’s a panic attack in the seat next to us). We can get awesome at relaxing, at communicating boundaries, at collaborating with others to build healthy, welcoming communities, and break down systems that create unnecessary uncertainty and barriers for so many.
A big problem with our mental healthcare system is that it takes a reactive, problem-first approach. We end up with everybody waiting until they’re in crisis to get help. It’s not a scalable approach to health. Imagine where we’d be at with physical fitness if we didn’t make exercise accessible until people have heart attacks. That’s where our mental health care system is at. That’s silly (and a major reason why it’s in crisis). We want to change that.
2. No reassurance or compulsions. We’ll burn your house down.
It’s sort of a joke, but the server rules clearly state that reassurance is not allowed and giving/asking for reassurance will lead to your house being burned down. In actuality, it just means that people will stick a fire emoji or a burning house emoji on posts that are practicing compulsions. This might seem strange to people outside of mental health communities, but if you’ve spent any time on mental illness apps, forums or subreddits, it is mostly posts practicing compulsions and engaging in lots of collaborative ruminating. It’s not helpful and fuels more of the anxieties people are struggling with. So it was important that we made the experiencing of interacting with the server part of a member’s mental health practice.
There is a wonderful group of moderators on the board, spread out around the world, that have been a pleasure to work with and have done so much to shape the culture and direction of the community. They share about their mental health and fitness practice and show new members a path forward. And if somebody is checking for reassurance or doing compulsions, it’s the moderators who gently engage with that person and help them see there are other ways to interact with brain stuff. Having a team of moderators developing their own mental health and fitness practices and sharing that with others is definitely a major support to building a mental health community that’s actually beneficial to mental health. So a big thank you to our moderators and the journeys they share!
3. You can learn from people with awesome skills.
One of the challenges I found when I started joining mental health support communities many years ago is that I didn’t see anybody doing well. It seemed like I had to have a problem to share, and it needed to be a really terrible problem. There was nobody talking about the kinds of exercises I was doing after therapy to not have to go back to therapy. But in something like a gym, there were tons of people at the gym doing more advanced skills, like hand-stand push-ups or muscle ups or squatting small cars. I could learn from somebody more advanced than me and there was clearly a path to getting there. One of the aims with the Mental Fitness Discord Server is to build a community that’s more like the gym, with people practicing skills that may have seemed impossible. They can share the path to getting there and there’s space for them to practice those skills, celebrate them, and keep developing.
The fact that a lot of us are working on difficult skills, doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges. We pursue challenges and failure! That’s a good workout if I go so hard I need to drop the bar or I end the workout in a puddle of sweat and I can’t breathe. We approach challenges as a useful opportunity to learn new skills to overcome them. Often, the way people approach mental health challenges would be like somebody going into a gym, trying to lift a heavy weight, struggling to lift it, and then announcing they have a chronic strength disorder. It was physically impossible to make the change! And it was uncomfortable! That all might be totally true. But it is possible to develop the skills and capacity to learn to lift that weight, just like it’s possible to build skills and capacity to cut out a compulsion, have some physically or mentally uncomfortable experiences, and do things we once believed impossible.
4. We take a transdiagnostic approach to mental health.
We’ve got people in the community that have been diagnosed with many different disorders, and none. Because the focus is on skills we’re building, it doesn’t matter what brings a person to the community. That’s a huge benefit of having a proactive approach to mental health. If people want to work on non-judgment skills, it doesn’t matter if one person is working on learning how to stop judging the physical weirdness of derealization, and another is learning how to stop judging voices as requiring lots of controlling compulsions, and another person is learning how to stop personalizing and judging every text message delay as meaning their friends are about to abandon them. All three are working on the same practice of non-judgment. By coming together and sharing the challenges and success with that work, we break down silos between diagnoses and increase the chances of somebody discovering approaches they might not have considered, that they can adapt to their own unique experiences.
5. We’re fun and holistic.
There’s more to life than brain indigestion. One of the things I’ve been impressed with in our community is how people bring their whole selves to the discussions. The context around a person is relevant to their mental health journey, implementing skills, and making changes. This is one area where the format of Discord has been beneficial to how the community can interact, compared with other platforms that lack Discord’s features. We can create opportunities to tackle social anxieties in the voice chat, share about our cats in the Show-and-Tell channel (although cats are always welcome in any channel), discuss healthy ways of communicating boundaries at work in the Communication channel, and community members setup weekly skills adventures in the Challenges channel, like exploring a week without social media. The number of channels might seem daunting at first when you join, so don’t be afraid to just post in any channel. The breadth of channels gives us an opportunity to see people beyond a problem or label.
The channels also create opportunities for fun. We haven’t played Tetris, but we have played a lot of other games, shared music skills, recipe, workouts, the ups-and-downs of life, sharing our meditation practices, the joys of rediscovering the world, and so many things we never thought we could ever do.
Doing mental health advocacy work around recovery has often felt like a solo endeavor and I am so grateful to be connecting with a community of people passionate about the same skills and adventures that gave me my life back. I want to share a huge thank you to everybody that’s made our community awesome and I look forward to where we take it, online, and as the world opens up after the pandemic, hopefully out into the offline world as well.
Want an invite to the Mental Fitness Discord Server?
Send me a message below about why you’d like to participate in a recovery-focused mental health community and I’ll send you an invitation to the server.