Video games could help treat mental illness, Lero research finds

17 Jun 2021

Image: © Gorodenkoff/Stock.adobe.com

Gaming may provide low-cost, accessible, effective and stigma-free support for those seeking mental health treatments, according to research from University of Limerick.

A team at University of Limerick-based Lero, the Science Foundation Ireland research centre for software, said video games could be used where conventional therapies are not available because of cost or location, or as an addition to traditional therapeutic treatments for depression or anxiety.

Their findings may prove especially prescient as society readjusts to life after Covid-19.

Lero researcher Dr Mark Campbell said: “The overall accessibility and pervasiveness of commercial video games within modern society positions them as an invaluable means of reaching individuals with mental health disorders, irrespective of age and sex, and with limited access to mental healthcare, particularly relevant during the current Covid-19 pandemic.”

It’s estimated that there are up to 2.7 bn gamers worldwide.

“It is worth considering commercial video games as a potential alternative option for the improvement of various aspects of mental health globally,” Campbell added.

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Campbell led a team attached to University of Limerick’s Health Research Institute and its Department of Physical Education & Sport Sciences to publish the research paper entitled ‘Gaming your mental health: A narrative review on mitigating depression and anxiety symptoms via commercial video games’. The paper was published in academic journal JMIR Serious Games.

The paper’s lead author, Magdalena Kowal of Lero and UL, said their research was in the context of the financial and healthcare service burden of mental illness, affecting more than 14pc of the world’s population. She noted that a significant proportion of people with mental health problems are not receiving treatment, especially during the pandemic.

“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.

Kowal said commercially available virtual reality (VR) video games have great potential in treating mental health issues also.

“These are well-suited for the implementation of cognitive behavioural techniques for the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders in the future. 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,” she said.

Blathnaid O’Dea is Careers reporter at Silicon Republic

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