Planet Comicon hosts first-ever panel on mental health

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- We are learning more and more about mental illness these days; studies indicate one in four Americans has some sort of mental disorder.

Experts say finding support is key. What if finding that support involves wookies and Rainbow Bright? At this weekend's Planet Comicon, mental health is becoming as important as your costume.

Some see Planet Comicon as a whole different world. "Geeks," said self-professed geek Angie Pendersen, "particularly feel like they're weird, they're outcasts, they're on the outside."

And some people see it as their world; a world where they can be anything they want to be.

"They come to Comicon," explained Pedersen, "to find people who do like those same things and so they can find that feeling of tribe and belonging."

Which is why the conference hosted its first ever panel on mental health Sunday afternoon.

Pendersen looked around the room at the crowd filling in. "So this is 'A New Hope: Geeks and Mental Health', and it's about finding your tribe and finding hope when you don't think there is hope. And so that you don't feel alone." Pendersen was a moderator for the panel discussion.

Roughly 60 people spent 60 minutes learning that they are not alone, even if once they leave Bartle Hall they may feel they are.

Erica Williams participated in the panel, dressed as Miss Frizzle from the Magic School Bus cartoon series.

"And they can take hold of that fandom as a family, no matter how they do it," she explained, hoisting the stuffed lizard back on her shoulder. "Whether it's dressing up, whether it's a t-shirt, whether it's posters, whether it's speaking up and being able to talk to each other.  And that we're all here for each other... and we're all one family.  And there really is that support."

Alex Ross was in the audience, and asked the first question. As a psychotherapist getting her PhD, she wanted to know how to interact with her clients who identified as geeks.

One of the panel leaders is also a psychotherapist. She explained what she does - sometimes dressing up in Belle costumes.

"I thought that was a good idea," said Ross of the advice, "to wear more geek-like clothes on days you're seeing geek clients."

"And she also recommended using narrative therapy," added Ross, "because geeks typically are storytellers. They like creating characters, they like being in character and telling their own story in a sci-fi way. She talked about how they could write their own story, and change their life to how they want to be."

As the hour progressed, many in the audience nodded they heard similar stories shared amongst themselves. "I just thought how awesome everyone was in sharing their own struggles," commented Ross.

Each aiming to tell a story of their own new hope, where they can live long and prosper.

Said Ross simply, "it doesn't have to be a stigmatized thing anymore."

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or having suicidal thoughts, there is help available. You can find more resources at You Matter.