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Jason Docton

HOW A ‘WORLD OF WARCRAFT’ GUILD EVOLVED INTO A NON-PROFIT MENTAL HEALTH ORGANIZATION

In World of Warcraft, a guild is an alliance of players who share resources and skills to overcome enemies and complete quests together. When he plays, Jason Docton alternates between rogue and druid classes, sneaking and healing in turn. As founder and CEO of Rise Above the Disorder (RAD), a non-profit organization helping people find mental health care, Docton is transferring the skills he honed in the virtual world into helping those in the real world.

The beginnings of RAD are steeped in World of Warcraft and Docton’s own personal struggles with mental illness. More than ten years ago, Docton was in a dark place. Unable to quell his panic attacks, he dropped out of school and lost his job. Eventually, Docton made a plan to take his own life.

“The day that I planned to do that came and I had this really strange thought in my head that if I took my life, then I would kind of subtract from the world, but if I could maybe save somebody or prevent somebody from doing the same, somehow that would balance things out. So I set out to do that,” Docton tells VENN.

It had been 48 months since Docton had left his home. The only place he effectively existed was in World of Warcraft, so that’s where he focused his efforts. A guild formed called Anxiety Gamers and, as the title implies, it consisted of a group of gamers struggling with anxiety and mental health focused on helping one another and others. The guild quickly expanded to multiple groups across several servers, with the largest reaching 13,000 members.

The guild offered peer support, but found that many members coming to them needed the help of clinical professionals. Rising to meet that need, the group began to look for therapists for gamers all over the world, rapidly growing from a WoW guild into a full-blown non-profit organization.

“So many people that Google a therapist get fatigued,” Docton says. “There are so many options, then you have to call all of these therapists and do all this research. You have to go through all of the rejections from people that are busy or don’t take your insurance. We can cut through all of that.”

RAD is currently equipped with a team of social workers who work with those seeking help to determine what their needs are and the best type of therapy to help them. The team then collects the person’s insurance information and does the work of finding the best therapist for that person and pairing them together.

It’s not always a perfect match, however, and RAD does see some people come back to request a different therapist. In those cases, the RAD team re-evaluate the individual’s needs and starts the search anew. On the whole, RAD claims a 30 percent higher success rate than the national average for therapists.

Another major barrier to professional help is cost, which RAD also addresses.

“We wanted to find a way around [the cost burden],” Docton says of RAD’s early days. “So we started carrying people in World of Warcraft in exchange for money, which we would use to pay for people’s mental health care.” (The term “carry” in this context generally means being paid to join a raid or quest and performing well enough to carry a team to victory).

It isn’t just WoW players that RAD focuses on. As Riot Games’ battle arena game League of Legends became more popular, the RAD group began carrying players on that platform as well. This led to the March 2016 Legends vs. Dragons event, in which the band Imagine Dragons faced off against five top League players in a charity livestream. At the time, it was a record-breaking stream, raising over $125,000 for RAD.

In order to accept the donation, RAD had to step away from its roots in World of Warcraft and become a certified non-profit organization. While an exciting move for Docton and his small team, RAD quickly went through the money raised and had to create new ways of raising revenue as it was no longer able to carry players in-game for payment.

Months after “retiring” from Warcraft, RAD received an email from a former guild member who needed help: a 19-year-old who had fallen through the cracks and found themselves homeless, without family and feeling lost. The RAD team determined inpatient treatment or intensive outpatient treatment was needed to help them eat, find a home and deal with their trauma.

It was a difficult search, as most institutions didn’t want to accept an individual without insurance. RAD eventually convinced an inpatient facility to charge $1,000 per month, a stark discount from the standard $10,000 per month rate, to treat the individual. Still new to fundraising, RAD struggled to raise the first $1,000. It took nearly a month to raise the money, and within that time, the 19-year-old killed themself. Docton told himself, “Never again.”

Since losing their guild member in 2018, RAD has stepped up its game to raise awareness for mental health in gamers, including launching the #YouAreRAD campaign in January 2019. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, RAD has seen a 211 percent increase in demand for program spending to cover the cost of mental health care.

To date, RAD has raised over $10 million in donations and helped 36,000 gamers across 133 countries find mental health treatment. Docton, however, has ambitions that reach even higher.

“We want the narrative of mental health to be synonymous with hope and with the opportunity to get better,” Docton says. “The long-term of that is to put all of this into one singular place. Our goal has always been to open up effectively the ‘St. Jude of mental health,’ a hospital dedicated to free mental health care.”

More information on RAD and mental health can be found on the organization’s website.

Photo of Jason Docton courtesy of RAD

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