Online gaming can be good for your mental health – here’s how

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Johnny Wood, Writer, Formative Content

  • Mental health practitioners are using online gaming to treat stress and other disorders.
  • Clinicians can let patients play independently or join them for treatment on multiplayer platforms such as Roblox or Minecraft.
  • It’s an additional tool therapists can use to tackle the growing mental health challenge caused by the pandemic..

Yoga, meditation, jogging… there are many ways to address conditions such as stress, but some mental health professionals are turning to online gaming to help patients cope.

It’s a technique that has flourished as lockdowns and social isolation during the pandemic caused a spike in some mental health problems, and therapists were forced to transition from in-person therapy sessions to interacting online.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about mental health?

One in four people will experience mental illness in their lives, costing the global economy an estimated $6 trillion by 2030.

Mental ill-health is the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people aged 10–24 years, contributing up to 45% of the overall burden of disease in this age-group. Yet globally, young people have the worst access to youth mental health care within the lifespan and across all the stages of illness (particularly during the early stages).

In response, the Forum has launched a global dialogue series to discuss the ideas, tools and architecture in which public and private stakeholders can build an ecosystem for health promotion and disease management on mental health.

One of the current key priorities is to support global efforts toward mental health outcomes – promoting key recommendations toward achieving the global targets on mental health, such as the WHO Knowledge-Action-Portal and the Countdown Global Mental Health

Read more about the work of our Platform for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare, and contact us to get involved.

While some video games have come under fire for their addictive nature, gaming can provide an immersive retreat from real-world stresses and strains, research shows. Blending traditional talk therapy with gaming can help encourage patients with mental health conditions to open up and engage more fully with their treatment.

Practitioners either encourage patients to play alone or join them on multiplayer online gaming platforms, such as Roblox or Minecraft.

How the pandemic increased stress levels

Almost half of US adults reported higher stress levels in April 2020 compared with the previous month, as the spread of COVID-19 accelerated.

By January the following year, the impact of health concerns and economic disruption resulted in 23% of US adults experiencing more mental stress, increasing demand for professional help to tackle these conditions.

Patients go with the ‘flow’

While online gaming as a therapy has come to the fore during the pandemic, it is not a new idea. Organizations such as not-for-profit Geek Therapy have advocated using video gaming in therapeutic, educational and community practice for more than a decade.

Referred to as ‘flow’ by psychologists, the feeling of being totally immersed in a game can help players block out feelings, problems and worries they are experiencing in real life.

Studies show playing video games can help you relax, concentrate better and improve mindfulness. As players complete simple tasks or levels within a game, a mood-enhancing happiness hormone called dopamine is released, while interacting with others online can boost confidence and help develop social skills.

Online gaming as an additional tool

That’s not to say patients are exposed to unlimited screen time or play simply for distraction.

Online gaming sessions should have specific treatment goals, such as honing social skills or building distress tolerance, according to clinical psychologist and author Aimee Daramus.

While online gaming is no replacement for traditional methods of treating mental health, it’s an additional tool therapists can use to tackle the growing mental health challenge caused by the pandemic.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Future on Mental Health is helping to address the current situation by promoting public-private initiatives, which increase treatment options for patients and bring about a shift in how mental health treatment is delivered to better prepare for the future.

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