How are Video Games Being Used to Treat Depression?


While video game addiction can be a problem for some, and it has been shown that this addiction can be linked to depression, recent studies are actually using video games to treat depression.  People are now creating new apps with games specifically designed to improve the player’s mental health.

In one study, participants were split into 3 groups: the first played an app called Project: EVO, which is not designed to specifically treat depression, but designed to help improve attention and focus; the second used iPST, which uses problem-solving therapy to reduce symptoms of depression; and the third group used the app Health Tips, which simply offers healthy suggestions.  While all 3 groups showed improvement in mild depression symptoms, those who had worse symptoms showed more improvement with the Project: EVO and iPST apps than with Health Tips.  In many instances, playing the games helped patients feel more in control of their depression.  The study also used carefully worded prompts to remind patients to play, and in many cases this increased the amount of time spent playing.

While the participants in that study were all in their early twenties, researchers are also looking into video games being used to address cognitive issues linked to depression in older adults.  Project: EVO was used for this study as well, and researchers believe that helping these areas could lessen symptoms of depression in elderly patients.  Many participants in the study hadn’t used a tablet or played a video game before, but they learned how, and played for at least 20 minutes 5 times per week.  A separate group had weekly therapy sessions, and researchers noticed that both groups showed similar improvements in their depression symptoms.

While this research is still in the early stages – researchers still need to determine whether the improvements seen in the short term will continue into the long term – the potential for treating depression with apps and video games could become a more cost-effective means of treating depression than traditional treatments.