By Stephanie Stahl
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The recent suicide of Robin Williams has many people talking about depression. Now in addition to therapy and medication targeted video games are being used to help with mental health problems. 3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl has more on the new research and how they work.
After a long day at work, Cheri Plevek enjoys playing her favorite video game. But it’s more than just a fun de-stresser. Some of the games are helping fight her lifelong battle against depression and anxiety.
“You have quests that you do and you earn points by doing something as simple as getting up out of your chair and getting moving, to calling a friend, hugging yourself,” said Cheri.
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 Tracy Dennis, a Professor of Psychology. She designed one of the games called Personal Zen. She says preliminary findings show after playing it 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,” said Tracy.
The National Institutes of Health is funding a study to research the effectiveness of one game.
“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,” said Scott Bea, a Clinical Psychologist.
But there are concerns that some people would underestimate the seriousness of their illness and download a 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 Bea.
As for Cheri, she says these games are a great complement to her regular therapy.
“When you add in the activities, quests, and other things that help you raise your mood and feel better about yourself, it’s just a joy, a joy to play,” said Cheri.
Most feel more research is needed before doctors will start prescribing these games for treatment.
There are a variety of video games designed to help with depression and anxiety that can be downloaded.
For more information:
Personal Zen- http://www.personalzen.com
Depression Quest- http://www.depressionquest.com