Experts believe online video gaming could be a new frontier in tackling young people’s mental health issues.
Researchers at Lero, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Software, have found that video games have the potential to provide low-cost, easy access, effective and stigma-free support to those in need.
They said video game access could be used where conventional therapies are not available because of cost or location – or in addition to traditional treatments for problems like anxiety.
“It is worth considering commercial video games as a potential alternative option for the improvement of various aspects of mental health globally,” Lero’s Dr Mark Campbell said.
Dr Campbell led a team attached to the University of Limerick (UL)’s Health Research Institute and Physical Education & Sport Sciences department to publish their latest research paper in the journal JMIR Serious Games.
He said commercial video games are freely available to youngsters and there are an estimated 2.7 billion video gamers worldwide.
“The overall accessibility and pervasiveness of commercial video games within modern society position them as an invaluable means of reaching individuals with mental health disorders, irrespective of age and sex, and with limited access to mental health care, particularly relevant during the current Covid-19 pandemic,” he added.
Lead study author Magdalena Kowal of Lero and UL explained the financial and healthcare service burden of mental illness, which affects more than 14 per cent of the world’s population, and stated that many go untreated.
“There is a heightened demand for accessible and cost-effective methods that prevent and facilitate coping with mental health illness. This demand has become exacerbated following the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent increase in mental health disorders, depression and anxiety in particular,” she said.
They hope that virtual reality (VR) video games also have great potential in treating mental health issues – whether people are gamers or not.
“These are well-suited for the implementation of cognitive behavioural techniques for the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders in the future,” she explained. “Given the immersive nature of VR technology and the controllability of the virtual environment, it could be particularly well-suited for use in exposure therapy.”