By Bixyl Shuftan
When asked about the progress of his recovery, his answer was, "In one word, slow. (laughter) Joking aside, it was very tough to come to terms with having bipolar. It wasn't what I had hoped for me, but that is part of life. We cant decide what cards we are dealt. It took me a couple of years to come to terms, and even longer to fully accept my diagnosis. Nowadays I embrace it, and I spend a lot of my time helping others who are going through similar experiences in their lives."
I asked how many were in the group. Sebastien told me, "743 members at the moment (smile). We are the largest active mental health / peer support group in Second Life. Of course some of our members are more actively participating than others. We think it is so important for the group to be open to everyone. We do get a lot of people come through during the holidays. We have mentor boards on the wall by the staircase where anyone can click on our mentors boards to speak to someone one on one." I asked if the group included people other than those affected by suicide. He told me, "Yes, we are open for anyone. Some of our members are not even suffering from mental health issues, but are carers for friends and relatives that do."
How did Sebastien go from a regular member to one of the staff? His answer was, "I think it was a natural progression. As I got better, I started needing less and less help, and simultaneously having more and more advice to give. I started here as a mentor, helping members through difficult times and sharing my own experiences. Then when Krissy needed a Director of Mentors, I took on that role. I have had managerial experience in real life, so I guess that helped in her decision to appoint me. Then as she had to withdraw even more from Second Life, she made me a co-founder, and I've been doing that for the best part of a year now. I think another important part was that I am very committed to staying well and healthy, and I try to help others do the same. My favorite saying is 'When the sun shines through again, it is time to patch the roof for rain.' It is kind of my motto, really. Knowing that we have a chronic illness, and taking steps to prevent and minimize relapses."
How would he say the group has been doing this time? "It has been pretty steady," Sebastien answered, "Participation in group meetings have increased over the last six months. The average is between four and ten people at a time, which is a really good group size really. Of course we are slightly busier now during the holidays which sadly is a peak time for depression and suicide. I think it reminds people of how lonely they are. So we are here to make sure nobody feels alone." I asked how much busier they are during the Christmas holiday. He answered, "At least thirty percent busier. Maybe fifty percent."
So what would Sebastien recommend to someone who suspects a friend of theirs has depression, and at what point should there be cause for concern? He admitted, "That's a tricky question because everyone are so different. But I'd say its time to start worrying when someone changes drastically from their usual selves, especially if the person is talking a lot about death or suicide. I will say though, if someone decides to withdraw, give them space but encourage them to participate in things, even if its just going for a walk together." I asked him what stories besides his stood out. He told me, "There are too many stories to share them all, but we have helped people suffering with anything from bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, disassociative personality disorder to childhood abuse victims, each and every member here has their own unique stories."
I asked Sebastien about other mental health groups. He told me, "I have seen quite a lot of mental health support groups come and go in the over six years we have been open. I don't want to comment on them as they are no longer open."
Sebastien then showed me the upper meeting room, located almost a couple thousand meters high above the sim. It was a somewhat small room with four chairs large enough to seat more than one person, a bookshelf that looked like it came out of a modern art painting, and a window showing a view of a major city from above, as if in a skyscraper. He told me, "When people click my mentor board I like to bring them here to talk. It is a private and calm space where nobody will disturb us. I have even held an intervention here with one of our members and their friends. Suicide is a serious matter, and we take it very seriously here. I do have to say, that we are NOT mental health professionals, and we don't offer counseling. We are purely a peer support group here to help and support one another through difficult times. Even if we were trained mental health professionals, it would be highly unethical to practice that here in Second Life."
It was about then the interview was over, and we parted ways.
Currently the Survivors of Suicide meets on Wednesdays at 4pm SLT, and Mondays at Noon SLT