Last year, freelance writer Matt Hughes, who had worked for media outlets like Joystiq and GamesRadar, took his own life. In the wake of the tragedy, a group of journalists came together to form the Take This Project, an initiative that aims to support those suffering from depression and anxiety by sharing personal stories and experiences with mental illness so that sufferers wouldn't feel alone. Today at PAX East, Take This Project's founders and contributors spoke on a panel about the organization, its future and the stories of those behind it.
"We had a tough day last year," Polygon's features editor and Take This Project's co-founder Russ Pitts said. "That's kind of how this all started."
He told the story of Matt Hughes' suicide, and the letter Hughes had written to his editors apologizing for the work he would no longer be able to do.
"We had a tough day last year."
"I've worked with 300 or 400 freelancers in my career," he said. "Chances are that I worked with somebody like Matt. The majority of their contact was through the internet with other people, digitally. And although they have lots of friends, they may not have anyone close enough to them they can talk to about the fact that they feel sad."
Thinking about that bothered Pitts, so he took to Twitter to see if anyone would be interested in creating a support network. In the five or so years he'd been on the social networking platform, no tweet of his had ever gathered more attention.
Along with his wife, Escapist editor-in-chief Susan Arendt, Dr. Mark Kline (both of whom were in attendance at today's panel) and a group of likeminded people, they created the Take This Project to let people know they aren't alone. The articles published on the Take This Project's Tumblr contain personal stories about depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder and more.
The founders of Take This Project said part of the reason the initiative exists is to address the stigmas that surround depression and anxiety.
Dr. Kline said it's appropriate to speak about anxiety and depression, although many people find it difficult. He said about 25 percent of the population suffers from either anxiety or depression, and wondered if something so prevalent even qualifies as a "disorder" anymore.
Susan Arendt said that she discovered what she characterized as "crippling anxiety" last fall. She thought she was busy, but she learned the truth at a doctor's appointment.
"My brain is my favorite part of me. And the idea that it wasn't working right really affected me."
"I didn't like the idea that something was wrong, in here," she said, pointing at her head. "My brain is my favorite part of me. And the idea that it wasn't working right really affected me."
As she learned more, she heard stories about depression and anxiety from others who she liked, admired and respected. She saw herself in them. And she realized that if people she liked, admired and respected had anxiety, maybe it wasn't so bad.
Sarah LeBoeuf, a writer at The Escapist, and Sean Sands, co-founder of Gamers With Jobs, also shared their stories about how they and their loved ones have battled depression and anxiety.
When the presentation ended, members of the audience lined up, eager to share their own stores. When each person was done, the audience gave them a spontaneous round of applause.
You can find more information on the Take This Project Tumblr.