FORT MYERS, Fla. – Videogames can be entertaining, but now some experts say they could be used to help improve your mental health.
According to the national institutes of health nearly 15 million Americans suffer from major depressive disorder and 40 million from an anxiety disorder. Psychologists are looking at these video games as a new way to reach those who need help.
“A lot of them look exactly the same as games that someone could play just for fun. So they may have cartoon characters, they could have missions, but embedded in that game are treatment mechanisms,” said psychology professor Tracy Dennis.
Dennis designed one such game called “Personal Zen.” She says preliminary findings show after playing the game for 20 minutes the brain starts processing negative information differently.
“We can train an anxious person to pay less attention to threat, to pay more attention to positive things in the game and then that eventually transfers to how they look at, and pay attention in, the real world,” she said.
The National Institutes of Health is even funding a study to research the effectiveness of games on mental health.
Doctor Scott Bea, a clinical psychologist says he believes that games could appeal to patients who are reluctant to seek out treatment.
“I think people resist less if it feels like a game, if it feels like fun. And we can train people even while they’re having fun,” Dr. Bea said.
However he is concerned about some people underestimating the seriousness of their illness and downloading the game instead of seeking professional help.
“The game itself might not be tailored enough to their specific condition so again we may be missing the target if we don’t have some guidance on what the real target is,” said Dr. Bea.
Both Dennis and Bea agree that more research is needed before doctors will start prescribing these games for treatment.
In the meantime however, anyone can try them out by downloading the apps or playing through a social media site like Facebook.