Video games are often associated with teenage boys locked in their room for hours on end, and many sensationalized news articles have pointed to video games as purveyors of violence and ill health. Is this view of video games antiquated and inaccurate? As it turns out, the idea that video games are responsible for declining mental health may not only be problematic; it may be altogether inaccurate and may even obscure the truth.
What is the truth of the matter?
In recent studies, video games have actually been linked to decreases in depressive symptoms, rather than being identified as symptomatic of or responsible for depression and other mental disorders. Like many other issues before it, such as CBD, video games are enjoying a resurgence in popularity and may even be used to benefit those with mental health needs.
Video Games and Mental Health: the Links
While video games have been on the receiving end of suspicion in the past, attitudes toward them are changing. Although using video games as a dedicated depression treatment may still be a long way off, using video games as a supplemental form of support may not be quite as far in the future. Parents and teachers have long pointed to gaming with both suspicion and support, alternately suggesting that video games are a source of wasted time and a source of incredible collaboration and creativity. Knowing whether a mental health issue is present can be complex and seemingly impossible, in the absence of self-administered questionnaires or professional evaluation.
Video games have also been pointed to as a potential concern by health professionals. Indeed, in one briefing, the World Health Organization actually identified gaming as a potential public health issue, largely due to the possibility of addiction in gaming. In sharp contrast to the possibility of using gaming as a mental health intervention, some researchers have expressed concern that gaming over the long term can lead to an addiction to the gaming process, and result in compulsive behaviors that can negatively impact your mental health.
Depression and Video Games
Although anxiety may experience some relief while playing video games, depression is the primary focus of research regarding mental health and video game use. In two different studies, now, researchers found that depression symptoms actually underwent a decrease in severity in response to regular video game use over a period of six weeks. The exact type of video games may not even matter: simple phone games have been linked to improvements in mental health, as well.
The precise reason for the bump in mental health is not known. Some researchers have posited that video games create a sense of connection between people and can decrease symptoms of loneliness. Others have suggested that the ability to find pleasure is the root cause of improved mental health. Still others have largely held off on their estimations of the root cause for mental health improvements, instead suggesting that further research is necessary to construct a well-thought-out argument behind the reasons for depression symptom improvement.
Can Video Games Help with Depressive Symptoms?
Yes and no. Using video games for a period of 30 minutes per day has been linked to improvements in mental health, but the effect of longer periods of use is not known and longer use is therefore not likely to be encouraged to improve mental health. Adhering to a set period of time can potentially improve mental health, and can contribute to a greater sense of joy and accomplishment, even if that period of time is largely spent playing games on a phone or tablet, rather than an actual gaming console.
As new information comes out, perceptions and attitudes change. This is the case with video games, which have long been regarded as sources of concern for parents, but have increasingly been linked to improvements in mental health. It should be noted that video games are not intended to take the place of legitimate interventions for mental health, like counseling or therapy, but can instead be used as a way to supplement existing therapies and interventions.
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with Mind-Diagnostics.org. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.