Our Practice Manager, Tom Bulpit, was recently featured in Happiful Magazine, discussing his love of the Warhammer tabletop hobby, and opens up about the positive impacts it's had on his own mental health. The published article co-interviews Katie from the popular Tabletop Tactics Youtube channel, herself a former NHS mental health practitioner.
Tom is planning to launch a platform for promoting mental health positivity in the gaming community soon, Mental Hammer, which you can sign up for launch updates here.
Read the published article on Happiful here (pages 56-58), or the full interview transcript below.
Q: Tell us about your Warhammer story. When did you first begin the hobby, and what do you enjoy about it?
A: Warhammer for me is a huge part of my identity. If I’m not being a therapist, I’m probably thinking about Space Marines! But the more I think about it, the more I realise how emotionally tied I am to it, and I think that’s why it carries so much meaning to so many people.
My journey into Warhammer came through my Dad. When I was very young, maybe from the age of six or seven, we would go up into the attic in our house and play historical tabletop “wargames”, re-enacting the Battle of Waterloo with tiny plastic Redcoats, or taking on Panzers by rolling dice and making “bang!” noises. My Dad was my best friend growing up, and spending that quality time with him was important. My mum was sick, and things at home weren’t great, and the adventure world we created in our attic was the best escape I had from it and a chance to just be a kid. That got harder to do after my parents divorced, and I struggled to make friends as I moved between different homes and schools. I managed to find a group of similar geeky guys through after-school clubs, and that’s when I was first introduced to Warhammer, starting with the Lord of the Rings “Battle for Middle Earth” game.
That eventually led me to “40k”, the grimdark sci-fi variation where humanity fights futuristic aliens instead of elves and goblins. I remember being around 12 years old and gifted a set of five metal Grey Knight Terminators; humanity’s superhuman elite infantry that resembled futuristic knights. I lovingly over-painted them, but to me they were the coolest. My mum took me to the local Games Workshop store to try and make more friends. The store was packed and I remember feeling very nervous. I got paired up with a much older lad who had an Ork “stompa”, basically a giant death robot made out of scrap metal bristling with huge guns. He wiped out my five little guys in the first turn, before I even got a chance to fight back, and that was it, game over. I remember feeling crushed and packing up my dead metal soldiers so I could leave as fast as possible. I never played a game of 40k again until I was an adult.
Fast forward to Covid-19. We were in full lockdown and my mum, whom by then I hadn’t seen for 10 years, had very suddenly died. I fell back into a very dark depression, and ironically was mid-way through my counselling training. I knew that I needed to protect my mental health and find something creative and positive that would allow me to process the isolation and grief, and to pull through. As luck would have it, the 9th edition of Warhammer 40k had just released, and suddenly my world opened up again. I bought a brand new army to build and paint from scratch, and then a second one. I consumed books, novels and rules and immersed myself back into the 40k universe. It’s probably not surprising that my main army are the Black Templars; a force of zealous, near-invincible super-human Crusaders, who fight to protect humanity no matter the odds… pretty easy to see why I went to them as a former young-carer. Getting back into 40k gave me the outlet I needed to process, opened up new friendships and has provided so many opportunities since then. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say Warhammer might have saved my life.
Q: Why did you decide to create Mental Hammer? What makes this platform necessary?
A: I know I’m not alone in my story, and that’s why I’ve founded Mental Hammer. It’s a mental health platform that fuses together the two best parts of me; the desire to create with the desire to help. Mental Hammer aims to be an online platform that encourages discussion and openness around mental health issues, specifically within the tabletop and geek community.
There’s a lot of my brothers and sisters of battle who are struggling out there. The Dad who feels exhausted, the workaholic who never has enough time, the kid who has nobody else to play with. Our stories may vary but our love of this hobby does not. It’s more than an outlet, it’s a passion, an identity even. It allows us to create, escape and meet like-minded people. It’s important, and so are we.
Our community is beginning to diversify massively, but the far majority of us are white guys, who coincidentally have some of the worst suicide rates and mental health of any demographic. Those of us who are attracted to geek culture often feel like outcasts and wallflowers, and struggle to fit in. But to the kid who got bullied in school, becomes a god of war on the tabletop. Whatever is going on outside, within his internal world he’s busy creating the lore and backstory for his custom Space Marine chapter.
These are the kinds of people Mental Hammer wants to reach. We create content, mostly written articles, that share our stories and talk about mental health. We’re hear to have a conversation, to share, to discuss and to break down stigma. If we remind each other that we’re not alone out there, we’re fulfilling our mission. If we encourage someone to take the first step towards getting professional help, we’re changing lives.
Initially we’re a very small team of people, both gamers and people with a mental health background alike, but united in our love of the hobby. We have so, so many ideas for content creation and subjects we can talk about, from the “pile of shame” (the dreaded backlog of unopened, unbuilt plastic) that we don’t feel we have the time or energy for, to the social anxiety of going to a gaming club for the first time. We hope to expand into podcasts, and one day YouTube videos, and it would be great to get a Discord community going if we get the traction.
I’m excited but also nervous as hell about our project, but I believe this is really needed now more than ever. We can write out articles and get it out there, maybe someone reads it, maybe they don’t. But it’s not about likes and follows, it’s about impact and the ability to tell even one person out there that they aren’t alone. That sounds worth it to me.
Q: Something Katie has spoken about is how supportive the Warhammer community can be when you're struggling. What's your take on this? Do you agree and, if so, why do you think this may be the case?
A: I think the Warhammer community has evolved massively in a small period of time, particularly during Covid-19. It was around that time that some well-known Warhammer personalities started speaking out directly about the benefits of Warhammer on their own mental health, and under each YouTube video there were hundreds of comments of other hobbyists bravely opening up about their own struggles. That’s massive.
So much of this happens locally, too. Most wargamers play with close friends or in small casual clubs. As a hardcore introvert I struggle with social anxiety sometimes, and it took me nearly six months after recently moving to join my local group; the wonderful guys and girls over at Comic Coffee in Cowes, Isle of Wight. I felt incredibly nervous to go there for the first time, but as soon as I stepped through the door I was welcomed instantly, shown to a table with a bunch of other people, and within 5 minutes I’m bantering and sharing hobby tips with everyone. I now go every opportunity I get. It’s this kind of community that is capable of so much good, and they’re exactly the kind of people I want to champion.
If you've enjoyed this article, please visit www.MentalHammer.com for updates on Tom's upcoming project to promote better mental health within the Warhammer community.
Are you a Warhammer fan who sometimes struggles with your mental health? Tom works here at Southampton Counselling Practice and we can provide remote counselling sessions online, including internationally. Send us a message and we'll get back to you ASAP.
The Emperor Protects!