Playing video games may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about dealing with depression, but perhaps it should be. By providing an escape, improving your cognition, and allowing you time to have fun and relax, gaming could be one of the best (and easiest) ways to manage symptoms of depression on a regular basis.
Depression is the most common mental health condition in the world. Globally, it affects over 350 million people. There are so many factors that can contribute to the problem, and it impacts everyone differently. Some people tend to function better than others, while some can hardly get out of bed due to the condition.
No one is immune to depression. Something like a traumatic event or frightening diagnosis can trigger the condition. Some people are more susceptible to becoming depressed after these problems. For example, in a study involving women diagnosed with mesothelioma, researchers revealed that, “Gender also can be a factor in the depression rate after a diagnosis for mesothelioma. Twenty percent of women in the study said they were depressed compared to men at 16%.” Despite this, there is no one concrete factor as to what causes depression, as there are many possibilities and potential environmental considerations.
While the condition affects everyone differently, there are many common symptoms that doctors and nurses are taught to recognize in patients:
- Overwhelming sadness
- Loss of interest
There are many treatment options for depression as well, and people respond differently depending on their needs. Some people benefit from therapy, while others receive greater help from support groups. For many, medication is the best way to manage symptoms.
Can video games be added to that list? Can they really help with depression or other mental health issues? Let’s find out.
Gaming and Mental Health
Nearly 70% of Americans play video games regularly. Many people play on their smartphones, while others go the more traditional route and hook up a gaming PC or console. As you might expect, due to the number of people struggling with depression in the world, there’s likely some overlap between gamers and people with depression. While some people might think the two would be linked in a negative way, that’s just not true.
In fact, video games can actually help with mental health problems.
A lot of it has to do with the type of video game being played and how it affects your brain. Roleplaying games, puzzle games, and other games that build skills can help with anxiety and stress, providing you with a welcome distraction and a sort of “escape” for a while.
More recently, video games have given a boost to that idea of distraction and taken it to a level of immersion. Owen Harris, an Irish game developer, released a game in 2014 for the Oculus Rift called Deep. Harris suffers from anxiety and depression, and he developed the game for other people who might be struggling. It guides you through various breathing exercises, encouraging your mind to focus and relax. You don’t need to move, and you don’t need to “win” the game. It’s about centering yourself.
It doesn’t really matter what types of games you play, though. Instead, find a game you enjoy and focus on actual play. Video games tend to get a bad reputation because people think they encourage laziness or a lack of motivation. The reality is, video games offer a way for you to play. They work in direct contrast to stressors like work, relationships, financial issues, or whatever might be burdening your life. When you take the time to play, you’re actually more likely to feel motivated, energized, and less depressed.
Additional Benefits of Playing Video Games
While we’re on the subject surrounding the stereotypes of video games, let’s cover a few more of the positive effects they can contribute to. They do more than just help to clear the fog of depression.
Video games can help to improve your hand-eye coordination, relieve pain, and boost your focus. If you struggle with stress, video games can be beneficial. Games help to lower stress levels just like they help deal with depression — they provide an escape. Games that deal with fantasy worlds are especially effective in lowering stress levels for this reason.
Additionally, recent studies have shown that playing video games may help to “enhance learning.” No, that’s not just something kids want to tell their parents so they can get an extra hour of game time in before bed. A study from Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany discovered that gaming can improve cognitive functioning. Gamers in the study were able to retain more knowledge and showed more activity in the hippocampus of the brain, which is responsible for memory. As a result, gaming could be beneficial for a variety of different audiences, including seniors who might struggle with memory loss.
While playing video games isn’t a replacement for therapy or medication, they can be a way to help with some of the symptoms of depression. If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to give your favorite game a try to help you deal with this sometimes overwhelming mental health condition