World Mental Health Day – The Tabletop Hobby & Our Metal Health

October 10, 2022 by brennon

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Today is World Mental Health day and in the current world situation, it seems more apt than ever that we take a moment to think about caring for our mental health and well-being. As hobbyists and (war)gamers we are quite lucky to have the hobby that we do as it does a fantastic job of offering both escapism and moments of calm regardless of what's going on outside the front door.

World Mental Health Day

Mental Health Foundation

World Mental Health Day

So, I thought I'd talk a little bit about mental health, the hobby and how being involved in tabletop gaming has been a pretty amazing and helpful aid against things that have happened in my life. Maybe, if you feel comfortable doing so, you can share some of your own thoughts in the comments down below.

The Painting Desk

I think one of the most amazing things about our hobby is the way that we can focus on a particular creative task and almost zone out when it comes to everything else happening around us. The painting desk is where I do that the most.

If I've had a hard day, I'm worried about "adulting" or anything in between, I take solace in my painting desk. There's nothing better, in my mind anyway than being able to just focus on a single task. I might have some music on in the background but for those few hours when I'm sitting at my desk, there isn't anything but me and the miniatures. Oh, and a cup of tea of course. I find it incredibly relaxing to be able to concentrate on the creative process and turn something from bare metal or plastic into a finished, painted product.

Because my mind has to focus on the task at hand, it isn't thinking about all the things that have stressed me out during the day. I'm not worried about bills or that person that made me feel anxious today, it's all about just getting that little task done. In some cases, finishing a miniature might not even be the aim. Making myself take the time to sit down and paint even the hooves on a horse is sometimes enough to clear my head and get me thinking straight.

I think there's something to be said about the idea of "painting parties" or "painting dates" if you like too. Whether it's online via Zoom, in Facebook chat or in person, I think that there is a great deal to be taken from sharing the experience of painting. Whilst it might be able to focus your attention on a single creative task, it can also be a lonely pursuit. Having someone else in the background to chat away with as you do it can be seriously beneficial.

It doesn't even necessarily have to be your friends, it could be a community that you like engaging with. I know that I've found it great to sit down with Battle Streams In Middle-earth every two weeks or so and just paint away listening to the presenters talk nonsense. It might be worth finding creators or communities that do something similar and joining in. Just the presence of others can be a great help when you're feeling low.

The Gaming Table...

Whilst I think sitting down to hobby is one of the things that helps me the most, I think the real salve for me comes in the experience of gaming with my friends. I used to live with three of my greatest friends and now live alone (at least until I get through the stress of buying a house!) and so there is the temptation at the moment to just sit on the sofa, stick the TV on and watch endless episodes of "something" until I need to go to bed. That doesn't help me at all. I sit and mull over every little thing from the day and stress about how I might be able to "fix" it tomorrow.

So, that's why I try my best to play games with my friends at least once a week. I make a concerted effort to go and play board games with my buddies on a Monday at Board Games, Beer & Baked Goods (find out more about that HERE). I might have had an absolutely awful day but I find it slides away when I get to sit down with them, chat about utter nonsense and just play games.

Again, I think the worries and the stress dim because you're focused on a single task. If it's a beefy Euro-style game, I'm trying to solve the puzzle in my head and plan moves and moves ahead. If it's a big, epic, story-focused game I am thinking about it from an escapist point of view and just being in that moment. Sit that alongside the back-and-forth conversations and the updates on our lives and it's a perfect opportunity for us to unwind.

...And Opening Up

I think it also helps to make time with friends you don't see very often to check in with them and see how they're doing. A game can be a great way to do that. It breaks the ice, to begin with, and offers you a chance to talk to them about what's going on whilst also having something else to focus on if they don't feel just ready yet. I know I've sat down at the table for a roleplaying game and used the few moments before a game or during a break in play to just ask questions of my friends to see how things are. Sometimes just asking "how are you doing?" can be what someone needs.

Even now, I think people find it hard to open up in a direct manner about mental health and general well-being. So, having a game be the focus and the fact that you're sitting next to each other in the same space makes a huge difference. It's well known that specifically in men, there are still issues with opening up but through doing a task together, they find it easier to discuss what they are feeling and how it is affecting them. I know a lot of places engage men in crafting pursuits like woodworking to help them but I would say that painting, gaming and hobbying, in general, do much the same and could be that "icebreaker" as we mentioned that helps you open up.

The Community

I think one of the biggest elements of all of this, and something I've come back to twice already is the community aspect. I think we've shown over the past couple of years how having a community of people (sometimes complete strangers) can be a huge help in getting through difficult situations. Our Discord community has grown and developed around that idea and I think a lot of folks take solace in the fact that they have a place to chat, share their views and thoughts and escape for a few moments each day.

Even the smallest things help in the end. I know I for one get a great kick out of seeing everyone say hello to each other during the day and natter on about random nonsense or share the work that they've been doing. You never know how much you might have helped someone by just saying "that looks ace" or "oh that game is awesome, I like what you did there" when they talk about something they've played, painted or generally mused upon. Small acts of kindness and humanity make a difference and I think that we see that all the time in our hobby.

Many of us will have the benefit of a friendly local gaming store where we can go to and hang out for ten or fifteen minutes chatting about what they've been doing and generally grumbling about Games Workshop. But, I also think that despite all the pitfalls of the internet, online spaces have become so incredibly helpful for a lot of people who don't have those kinds of lifelines.

I think there are probably three or four different Facebook Groups at least for a given game and there are (usually) a bunch of awesome people running those spaces who just want to have you involved and chatting away.

I know even the smallest of communities help me out. I could be having an absolutely awful day and the little ping from Facebook in my "Tabletop Boyz" group helps out dramatically. It's usually my friends sharing some meme or funny image, or talking about what they just painted, but it snaps me out of my bad mood and really just brightens my day.

Escapism (The Right Kind)

Whilst I've talked about some ways that I help myself deal with bad mental health days, I've not really got to the core of why I do these things. I'm not massively ready to talk about it but it's safe to say that I was getting the "escapism" bit wrong and a bad "relationship" led to me being very detached from my friends and family who I didn't feel (and in some cases still don't) I could talk to concerning how it was affecting me. I felt, quite wrongly, that what I was feeling was just "silly" when it was obviously much more than that.

To cut a long story short, it was (in part) tabletop gaming and the hobby that set my mind straight. I couldn't or didn't think that I could talk to my friends or family about my situation but I remember buying a few Warhammer kits after years away from the hobby and I just sat down and glued the miniatures together. It was amazing the difference it made. It gave me the contemplative time to zone out and just "do" something that wasn't tied to the outside world or what was happening to me. I could have had an absolutely awful day but a few hours painting or speaking to my friends about a game they'd just played or miniatures they were collecting made things better. It also gave me uninterrupted time to think, but in a positive way.

I eventually got out of that "relationship" and it was seriously hard for a long time not to slip back into it. But, having the hobby that I did/do and friends who were around to play games with, I could finally embrace a little bit of that proper escapism. The kind that helps rather than hinders. Do I still have moments of anxiousness and panic attacks dredged up from that time? Sure. But it has become a lot easier for me to deal with now.

Getting outdoors, reading books, hanging out with friends and all those "normal" things all helped as well of course but I feel like having the hobby to fall back on in those quiet moments alone and by myself really did help me focus on the positive. The creative outlet that it offered got me thinking about the good times when I felt happy and put me in the right frame of mind. This isn't to say that this is going to be a catch-all way to help with every problem, but sharing what worked for me might be helpful to others out there.

Help & More

Mental health has obviously been discussed here OnTableTop before. A few weeks back, we discussed mental health with SunDancer (Tim) who came onto the show. You can watch that down below...


Watch The Show Here 

SunDancer's Follow-Up Video (German)

We also did a show a few years back with Mel TheTerrainTutor about PTSD. You can watch that here but be aware - some sections of this show may be difficult to watch.

The main takeaway that I want folks to have from this, in the comments or just in general is that you can talk and people will listen. There is incredible help out there from some lifelines like you see here...

Mental Health Foundation

World Mental Health Day

Exploring Mental Health


Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) - #TellAMate

The Mix (For Under 25's)

As we said back when we talked to Mel...

"Dealing with mental health issues is something that affects everyone to some degree. No one should feel ashamed of it, but the very nature of it can lead to anxiety and isolation that only amplifies the problem. By sharing our experiences, together we can end the stigma. Hobby brought us together and as a community, we can help to support each other."

So, take some time today to paint a miniature, talk about army building or just reach out to those friends that you've not talked to in ages. It could help you and it might even help them too.

Drop your thoughts in the comments below...

"Sometimes just asking "how are you doing?" can be what someone needs..."

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"Hobby brought us together and as a community, we can help to support each other..."

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