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Interview: Take This Community Director Dr. Kelli Dunlap

Take This focuses on mental health in gamers and the game industry

Arthur Collins

Jul 12, 2023

Take This is a non-profit organization that focuses on mental health issues across the entire video game market. They work with game studios and the gamers themselves to help remove the stigma of mental illness.

I had a chance to sit down with Kelli Dunlap, PsyD, the Community Director at Take This recently. She’s the main boss of the Take This Ambassador program, the organization’s street team of streamers that help advocate for the org itself, as well as good mental health tactics. 

Full disclosure: I’m a member of the Take This Ambassador program myself.

She also specializes in the community of Take This, including their Discord and other initiatives. She had a ton of insight on what Take This actually does, initiatives they’re focusing on currently, and tips for those that need it.

Alright, let's start with some basic questions to introduce yourself and the organization. I know there are official blurbs for this question. But, I want to hear it a little more “detailed and personal”. What exactly does Take This do for the community?

Ok! So Take This is a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to destigmatizing mental health challenges and increasing mental health resources for the games community. By games community, we mean everyone from players to developers.

Image: Take This

What we offer and provide changes based on what part of the games community we’re serving at that time. So, for example, we recently released a pretty major project on burnout in content creators.

The project includes definitions, examples, and connections to “content creator” and “burnout”-specific resources, i.e. things for content creators to use themselves and things they can use in their own communities.

And burnout is just the first of the many similar projects we've got in the pipeline to serve streamers and community managers.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the workshops we put on for developers, like how to accommodate neurodiversity in the studio, crisis leadership, and the impact of crunch.

Our most well-known program is the AFK Room - a quiet room at major gaming conventions for people to get away, relax, and get support. The AFK rooms are staffed by trained volunteers and there is always at least one licensed provider on-site at all times.

Tell me more about the AFK Rooms. I've used them, personally, many times. But, how does it work? If someone is having, let's say, a panic attack at a giant convention, walk me through how the AFK Room can help the situation.

The vast majority of people who utilize the AFK Room are people who just want to get away from the business of the con. They can color, chill on bean bags, charge their phone, or just breathe. 

We work with the conventions themselves to make sure the workers (e.g. the Enforcers at PAX, etc.) know about the room and when to direct people to it, as well as signage around the convention. Our volunteers greet everyone who comes into the room, so if someone is in distress - or is brought in by convention staff - they are spoken to immediately. 

Volunteers are trained to provide support through active listening and validation. Combined with a calm space, that's usually enough.

Image: Take This

On the rarer occasion, someone comes into the AFK Room and is in clear distress, the AFK Room coordinator may step in. And if needed, they'll call in whomever the clinical supervisor is.

The next step after that would be getting the person outside help. I can only think of one or two times where it's escalated that far though. 

We try to be really clear that we're not a crisis center and we don't give out therapy.

The AFK Rooms have helped me more times than I care to admit. But, let's say I'm a gamer that doesn't go to conventions with AFK Rooms.

What kinds of resources does Take This provide for free?

The main resource we have for that kind of thing is our written content. In fact, the #1 most-viewed, liked, and requested piece of content we've ever put out is our “How to Handle Con Crash” article. 

We have several written series on things like convention safety, being COVID-safe at cons (written in collaboration with a virologist), etc.

Amazing. So, you mentioned earlier that content creators are a current initiative for Take This. There can be a lot of burnout and stress for those that don’t know. Do you have any tips for aspiring content creators to keep their brains from melting going into this particular field?

The short version is that content creation is WORK. Even if it's a hobby, it requires tons of effort and there are a lot of burnout vulnerabilities that line up with the kind of demands content creators face.

The best, most broad advice is to practice work-life separation. This means that you're not working when you're not working. You make time for other things in your life. Don't pancake yourself into one dimension.

Speaking of content creators, I know you head up the Ambassador program. I'm a Take This Ambassador myself and see it as a sort-of "Street Team". 

In your opinion, what do the Ambassadors do and how do they get the word out about mental health in gaming and good habits?

Our Streaming Ambassadors are a legacy program dating back to before even I was here. The original goal of Ambassadors was to be a way to promote mental health and well-being in gaming spaces while also helping raise funds for Take This. 

Image: Take This

We took out the fundraising requirement about 2 years ago because with everything going on (I’m waving vaguely at 2020 to the present), it felt like a burden to Ambassadors, a group of people we consider to be some of our greatest advocates and staunchest supporters.

All people who are accepted into the Streaming Ambassador program have gone through an interview process [with] people like myself - fellow content creators/streamers + mental health professionals. 

Applications are reviewed, streams are observed, and, of course, we talk with every applicant. The goal here isn't to pick only those who are experts in mental health, but rather are mental health advocates who are kind and informed.

We know from research that the biggest source of information and support that streamers tap into is other streamers. So the more streamers we have out there that know their stuff, who challenge stigma and lead with kindness, the better!

As someone that deals with mental illness myself, I remember being a big fan of Take This ever since it was founded. 

How would you say that Take This has made progress in helping gamers and the game industry understand mental health since it was created? Of course, it'd have a positive impact, but just HOW positive was the impact?

For the AFK Room, we've served 13,000 people across 42 AFK Rooms. We've partnered with 40+ game studios to support the mental health of game developers and improve the representation of mental health challenges in games.

I don't want to just list off our accomplishments because you asked for impact. Unfortunately, “impact” in the mental health space is really hard to track.

For example, we don't ask AFK Room visitors "Did you enjoy your stay? Rate how much your mental health has improved since entering the room!” 

And the work we do with game developers to address how the industry cares for its workers (or doesn't), and how it portrays mental health through game design, is a systems-level thing that takes time to shift.

You've been in your position for a while. So, somewhere inside you, you know “impact” is being made. 

I think a better question here might be "How often do people approach you, the team, or the organization as a whole and tell you that you've helped them through a bad patch?"

Now, that question I can answer! I wouldn't show up and do this job if I didn't think it was helping people.


I can't count the number of individual stories I've been told or have heard from other staff of people talking about the org and how it's helped them. Some of it comes up in our community Discord and it's so heartwarming to read.

The “Shields of Hope” that we used to sell were literal tokens of hope and, again, I can't count the number of times I've been told about how even those small things helped someone through a hard time or were a reminder that people cared.

I have two Shields of Hope, myself! OK, last question: Tell me a little more about yourself. What games do you personally enjoy to help ease stress and depressurize from the day? Any particular reason for playing these games?

I am a massive Halo fan. I've played since Combat Evolved and I still play Infinite at least once or twice a week. I think I have something like over 10K games of Halo 3. I even had my Halo symbols sewn into the train of my wedding dress!

It's a game where I get to spend time with my friends, something that's pretty challenging otherwise since none of us live in the same timezone (and some are not even on the same continent).

It's something I'm good at. Not MLG or HCS good, but better than your average n00b. I love the teamwork aspect. I love outthinking opponents... and I love blowing stuff up!

I also play Wordle every day. So I guess you could say that I like a challenge in my games.

Thank you so much for your time, Doctor. You’ve given some incredible insight into how Take This works and what they do to help.

Take This, as mentioned, is full of resources and articles to help those that need it. You can find them on their website. Next time you’re at a major convention, like PAX, keep a look out for their AFK Rooms. 


Disclaimer: This article, nor the links within, are not a substitute for medical advice or professional counseling. While we are huge fans of the resources that Take This provides, as well as the thoughts from actual doctors that work with the organization, it does not supplant medical or psychiatric advice from a professional catered to your needs.


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Arthur Collins

Arthur Collins likes collecting titles. Some call him Dungeon Master, some call him Pokemon Professor. He's been a journalist off and on for over a decade and a half, which means he's almost Level 2 in journalism. You can find him yelling at his screen while playing Halo or curled up playing games like Animal Crossing. Or on Twitter and Threads. He has those at @cheshirespurr.


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Avenir Light is a clean and stylish font favored by designers. It's easy on the eyes and a great go-to font for titles, paragraphs & more.

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Avenir Light is a clean and stylish font favored by designers. It's easy on the eyes and a great go-to font for titles, paragraphs & more.

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