In March of 2018, the Hub’s creator, Zeroghan, shared his experience about dealing with anxiety and panic attacks to the entire Pokémon GO community. The piece was very well received by all, to the point that Niantic even promoted it on their website. For those who haven’t read it, you can find it here.
Why are we bringing this up today? Mental health is very important, and there is still a lot of misconception as to what depression or anxiety is. For those who don’t believe in mental illness, it doesn’t matter because it’s a fact, it exists. As a result, a group of researchers lead by Michael Van Ameringen, MD, from McMaster University decided to embark on a project to determine the effects of games such as Pokémon GO on people suffering from mental health conditions.
*Huge thanks to Matt Hoffman from MD Magazine who wrote about the topic here.
“The idea for this project came from clinical observation. When the game first came out, I noticed patients who had severe social anxiety disorder and a lot of depression starting to go out of their homes—and leave their computer screens and get off their couches—to play the game and actually engage with other players when they were out,” Van Ameringen, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences, told MD Magazine at the annual meeting. “These were individuals who were very difficult to treat [and with who] we were unable to engage in any form of psychological treatment. This led me to wondering if this game had the ability to be used as a mental health treatment, even though it wasn’t intended to do this.”
In the study, 152 participants engaged in playing Pokémon GO, for 7 hours per week on average. While the article does not specify whether or not all the participants suffered from mental health conditions, nor which mental illness they suffered from, 1/3 of them “reported [noticing] changes in their social behaviors since they began playing the game.” (Hoffman) Those changes would vary from the followings:
- Speaking to more strangers or unfamiliar people (85% of the group);
- Spending more time with friends (76% of the group);
- Making new friends (41% of the group);
- Increasing physical activity (51% of the group).
Another very interesting discovery was that the participants suffering from mental health conditions seemingly played more than their peers not suffering from it. Although the article does not specify how long it took for the participants to have this feeling of well-being, there have been similar reports in the first few months when the game was released.
In sum, Dr. Van Ameringen and his colleagues realized that games such as Pokémon GO using AR technologies have a tremendous potential in helping with mental illness. The group goes as far as to suggest that “[t]his type of gaming technology should be harnessed as a tool for engagement in a population which is historically difficult to engage in behavioral treatments for depression and anxiety disorders” (Van Ameringen); and that this type of gaming technology is more efficient than other mobile mental health applications currently available on the market.
Dr. Van Ameringen and his group came to the conclusion that Pokémon GO and other similar games certainly have a positive effect on physical activity, social behavior, and metal wellness. Furthermore, the groups believes that this information would certainly be useful to clinicians as something to incorporate into their practice.
There could be so much more to say on the subject of mental health, whether it’s through the sharing of personal experiences or of professional studies, we at the Hub firmly believe that mental health is important and that Pokémon GO can help with depression and/or anxiety. So if you are suffering from mental health conditions, don’t be ashamed of it, you’re not alone. If you know someone who’s suffering from anxiety or depression, reach out to them. Introduce them to Pokemon GO and your local play group, get them out and about and interacting with others in the community. It helps. It really helps.
You can also read about the science behind Pokémon GO’s influence on anxiety here: