With ‘The Holidays’ just behind us and Valentine’s Day right around the corner we at MadPea are reminded that for many people this time of year represents a real and serious struggle. It’s easy to laugh and make fun of Valentine’s Day with our gacha sets like Love Sucks at Epiphany – but we are more than aware that love is no joke and neither is being lonely. It’s often a trigger for many of us who battle things like depression and anxieties and it’s all too easy for it to spin out of our control. Thankfully there are communities in Second Life that are dedicated to reaching out when we need it the most.
Recently I had the pleasure to speak to Sebastien Bouevier the manager of the SOS Group, Survivors of Suicide, about what his group offers. What I found was an incredibly warm and supportive group, full of people who have faced the darkest parts of themselves and survived and are willing to reach out a supportive hand, shoulder, ear or hug to those of us who are going through our own dark places.
How long has Survivors of Suicide been active in Second Life?
We just celebrated out 10th anniversary in December.
SOS was founded in December 2008, and has remained active since. This makes us the longest running group of its kind in SL.
What are the goals of the group?
The group was initially founded to prevent suicide, to raise awareness around suicide prevention, and reducing the stigmas attached to that subject. However, as time has passed the group has grown to become an umbrella for all kinds of mental health issues. Our goal is to help anyone who is going through a difficult time, support each other through recovery after a crisis, and sharing strategies and resources to prevent relapses as much as possible.
Can anyone join?
Yes, SOS is open to everyone in the Second Life community over the age of 18.
Why do you think it’s important to have a presence in Second Life?
We have to offer help where it is needed. One in four adults out in the real world suffer from some sort of mental health issue at any given time, and I am sure that this number is at least the same, if not higher, among the Second Life community.
I think it is important to offer a low threshold support group where people can join, socialize, share experiences, and get support even when they can’t face leaving their RL homes. When I started my journey of recovery it was tremendously helpful to be able to go to a peer support group meeting and interact with other people with similar experiences, all while staying snuggled up in bed wearing my jammies.
There is also the added benefit of the relative anonymity that SL offers that you won’t get if you live in a small community where people are often stigmatized because of real or perceived mental health issues.
What can someone expect when reaching out to SOS for the first time?
You can expect a warm and welcoming community of people that care about each other, that are willing to listen and talk with anyone about anything without judgement or prejudice. I know the term “safe space” gets thrown around a lot these days, but at SOS that is very much what we are. A place where it is safe to let your guard down and seek help and support.
As we approach 900 members there is always someone online, so feel free to reach out in the group chat at any time.
You have a group of mentors to help talk one on one to people, how many mentors do you have and what can someone do who is interested in becoming a mentor?
We currently have around 20 active mentors, but we are looking to increase this to make sure we have someone available around the clock.
We are looking for people who have personal experience with mental health issues. The ideal candidates should have gone through significant challenges and subsequent recovery, so that they can be able to relate to the people seeking help, and offer them support based on their own experiences.
It is important to point out that we are a peer support group, and that we do not offer professional mental health services, and that all of our staff are volunteers. While we are a great supplement in mental health recovery, we are not a replacement for RL psychological or psychiatric care.
Application forms can be found in the library at our location in-world.
Are there other ways to get involved with the group, like group events or meet and greets or group sessions?
Yes. We currently meet twice a week for support group meetings. A general group meeting on Wednesdays at 4 pm, and another meeting on Thursdays at noon specifically geared towards people with dissociative identity disorder.
We have a monthly photo competition at our sky gallery above the main parcel, where we choose a new topic related to mental health positivity every month. It is a great way for people to express themselves through photography, and it is open to members and non members alike. The prizes are modest but always photography related.
We run alternating game and movie nights every weekend, 2 pm SLT.. Come to our location inworld to check the calendar!
Also, we are holding an open house all day Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th of February where we will have someone available on the parcel to answer questions and show people around. There may even be a little goody bag for anyone who comes to visit!
Are there any RL tie ins such as meetings or hot-lines?
We have our own website, facebook page, flickr, and discord server so people can stay in touch even when they are not logged in to SL.
We always refer people in crises to the appropriate RL services, whether that be their family doctor, therapists or emergency services when required. We maintain a list of national and international suicide hotlines that can be found both on our website, and in our library at our location inworld.
That said, we do all our fundraising within Second Life as we are first and foremost an SL organization. All the funds we raise go directly to maintaining our location in Second Life as well as expanding our services and visibility. All of our staff, myself included, are volunteers, and we do not receive any money for what we do.
What are your goals for 2019?
Our goals for 2019 is to grow the group, both in terms of membership, but also in terms of what we offer to our members. We recently moved to a new location and added an art gallery, movie theatre, memorial, and a few serene chillout areas for members to enjoy.
We are also looking to team up with university researchers to study the efficacy of providing support to people with mental health issues through the medium of virtual worlds. I know from personal experience, and from testimonials of our members, that what we do has made dramatic differences in peoples lives, but it will be very interesting to see how effective we are compared with conventional peer support groups in RL.
Finally, it is also our goal to reach out to as many people in the SL community as possible. We held a Christmas Fair in December to celebrate our 10th anniversary, and judging by the response of visitors and sponsors alike, there is certainly a demand for what we do in SL, we just need to make people aware that we exist, what we do, and where to find us.
What’s the most important message you can offer someone who is struggling right now?
If you are struggling, reach out to someone. It can be a trusted friend or family member, your doctor, a helpline, or come see us at SOS. You are not alone, and you don’t have to go through this alone. Help is available, but you have to let someone know.
A big thank you to Sebastien and I hope if you are struggling that you take that step and reach out. There are people waiting to help.