On the surface, staying at home on your own and not socialising with other human beings for extended periods of time, doesn’t seem like the best antidote for people with depression.
According to the research, this is because they can help people feel they have control over their depression, and are not powerless.
The team from the University of California used six three-minute video games, which were adapted from pre-existing neurophysiological training tasks, and targeted two types of people within the trial group of 160 participants.
One version was for those with ‘internal’ depression, caused by either a chemical imbalance or a hereditary factor, and the other 50% were being treated for ‘external’ depression, caused by environmental factors such as a relationship or job situation.
At the end of the game the players were given inspirational messages, that read: “Just like a regular workout, much of the benefit of these tasks comes from using them without taking breaks and putting in your best effort.”
Lead author Subuhi Khan and colleague Jorge Pena, explained that these messages were the key to success of the games: “Through the use of carefully designed persuasive message prompts, mental health video games can be perceived and used as a more viable and less attrition-ridden treatment option.”
These messages found that portraying depression as something caused internally because of biological factors and providing a video game-based app made participants feel that they could do something to control their depression.
On the other hand, portraying depression as a condition caused by external factors led users to spend more time playing the game.
The study did not examine whether playing the games actually reduced depression and say that will be done in the future.
In February, the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that depression is now the leading cause of disability across the globe, with more than 4% of the world’s population living with depression. With young people, pregnant or post-partum women, and the elderly being most affected.
According to NHS statistics, occurrence is at similar levels in the UK, with approximately 4% of children aged five to sixteen being diagnosed as anxious or depressed. It effects 10% of people in Britain at some point during their life.