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Vancouver program combats social isolation with Dungeons and Dragons

‘Heroes from Home’ helps people maintain social connections by playing D&D.

By Grace Jenkins , in City , on January 12, 2021

Kellen Curry was talking to a friend, David Self, about how Self decided to play Dungeons and Dragons because his counsellor suggested that he interact with more adults.

That inspired Curry with an idea for how to help other people who struggle with mental-health issues who are feeling isolated during COVID-19.

“I connected that with how important D&D had been for my mental health. I thought, ‘Well, this might work for other people.’”

So Curry, who works with Vancouver Coastal Health as a peer supporter for people with mental-health issues, launched a program that runs D&D games to help people maintain social connections. Dungeons and Dragons is a fantasy role-playing game where people create stories jointly, either in person or online.

“I hope that this is an outlet for people that are isolated right now,” said Curry, who received funding through the agency’s Consumer Initiative Fund, a program that provides support for projects led by users of mental health services, rather than managers or counsellors.

Curry’s Heroes from Home initiative aims to help participants develop the social skills needed to join other D&D groups by bringing people

Kellen Curry, the program’s founder. Photo: Kellen Curry.

together, running games, and teaching them to play.

“By picking up the knowledge of how to play Dungeons and Dragons, they now have a skill and the ability to enter a community,” Curry said.

Katie Lear, a counsellor who uses D&D in group therapy, believes there are many mental-health benefits to playing the game. It is collaborative, not competitive, for one.

“It makes it really easy to socialize. You almost can’t help but become friends with people you play D&D with. It’s just built into the game that you’re working together.”

Instead of playing against each other, the players create a story together.

“It’s an opportunity to connect with something childlike, whatever makes us want to play make-believe as children,” Curry said.

One participant, who asked not to be identified by name, was drawn to the program by its emphasis on being an open and supportive environment.  She said she’s had a great experience with the group so far.

“It’s been really positive to be interacting with a group of people that just kind of gets me out of my own head.”

David Self. Photo: David Self.

According to Lear, the largest benefit that D&D has for mental health during COVID-19 is that socialization.

“More than any skill, more than exploring different sides of yourself, it’s a meaningful way to be with other people that’s still safe physically. I think that having the opportunity to experience joy, accomplish something and learn something new is probably the most powerful tool that we have to push back against depression.”

According to the woman in the program, it is working.

“There’s a very positive aspect for people’s mental health, being able to participate in something like this in such a non-judgmental, friendly and supportive environment. I think it’s a great use of resources by our local health authority to support this kind of project.”