This Video Game Actually Treats Teenagers' Depression

Usually when "video games" and "depression" show up in a sentence together, there's a research team trying to prove that playing video games causes or at least correlates with depression, especially in kids and teens.

This time, however, the news is much more positive: at least one video game out there, it seems, can actually help fight depression. A research team in New Zealand has created a fantasy game explicitly designed to help teenagers combat depression, and so far, results look promising.

The game is called SPARX, an acronym standing for "Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-factor thoughts." Each level of the game teaches a well-known theraputic or coping skill, much as classic talk therapy would. One level teaches problem-solving skills, while another has the player literally shooting down negative and self-defeating thoughts and ideas.

Teens in the program who played SPARX turned out to be significantly more likely to see their depression ebb than the teens who participated in standard therapy. 26 per cent of the participants in traditional care had their depression go into remission during the study, but among the teens who played the game, the percentage jumped to 44 per cent.

The researchers working with with SPARX explained that the success of the game in treating teenagers' depression may be significantly magnified because of its potential wide reach. Roughly 80 per cent of teenagers fighting depression, they say, never receive treatment. But the game requires neither active supervision, nor discussing problems aloud with an adult. That means that SPARX or another game like it could be a relief both on financial resources (which have limits) and on teenage embarrassment (which is infinite).

This isn't the first study to find that certain kinds of games can be effective treatments for depression. Roughly a year ago, researchers at East Carolina University found that mainstream casual games like Bejeweled could also potentially be effective in treating and reducing symptoms of depression. Similarly, other serious games focused on education and visualisation have proven promising in helping treat severe physical illness in kids, as well as mental illness.

Video Game May Help Treat Teen Depression [WebMD, via Gameranx]

Image: Flickr user Tjook.


    If Video games cause depression then so does chocolate and exercise as they also release serotonin.

      I believe depression is generally caused by a deficiency of serotonin so yeah, like anything that helps release it can help relieve symptoms for a while.

        Major Depression, (The general label for a depression problem that lasts for an extended period of time or is recurring) is commonly thought to be related to serotonin levels, although there are a lot of situational and mental factors which can contribute to it and exacerbate it. While everyday activities and food can give you a temporary fix, proper drugs actually play around with your body's methods of production and re-uptake of serotonin while others affect epinephrine and dopamine processing.

        Flooding the receptors will mean they take longer to process it, but it's nowhere near as effective as actually controlling the re-uptake process itself and effectively gating the serotonin from being re-absorbed so fast. The scary thing is, most Psychiatrists (the ones that use chemical methods as opposed to Psychologists which use cognitive techniques) really can't say what will work for you so there is usually a lot of experimentation with treatments when you first start out and then it's something you have to more or less keep up for life.

          I quickly flushed all my pills the minute I realised the screw was playing as much a guessing game as I was.
          Readjusting to new medication whilst reeling in the absence of that which you were just on sucks.

          We all manage in our own ways, I guess.

    TTGL fixes most of my depression issues. Ultra motivating stuff ftw

    For the cognitive aspect of depression, it seems like the obvious progression of the traditional cognitive behaviour techniques because most kids will have some form of familiarity with video games and thinking interactively. It's like the research done a while ago that experimented with the thought that nightmares are less likely to affect gamers as much because they are used to controlling their environments.

    Here I was thinking alcohol and drugs cured depression.

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