Guest Author, April Sutphen on behalf of The Mindful Gamer
Over 2.5 billion people worldwide play video games. This figure includes mobile games, gaming on a console, and using a PC. The reasons why people game is far-reaching with stress relief topping the list.
According to WHO (World Health Organization), another 264 million people globally suffer from depression. A myriad of factors can cause depression including genetics, traumatic events, life circumstances, and health issues, just to name a few.
But what about video games? Some people argue that excessive gameplay can actually cause depression. These claims are often linked to violent video games that depict killing, guns, and other forms of violence.
While there’s no evidence that playing video games and depression are directly related, there are some interesting connections and observations that may support these claims. There have also been numerous studies on whether or not video games make depression symptoms worse or if they may actually ease symptoms.
Here we’ll examine the connection between video game addiction and depression from all angles to give you a comprehensive look at how these two conditions are related, if at all.
Reasons People Play Video Games
Before we can discuss the connection between video game addiction and depression, it’s important to understand the reasons why people play. The benefits of playing video games are often what attract individuals with depression.
- Fun, engaging, and interactive
- Increased confidence and competency
- An avenue for exploration and freedom
- The ability to safely take risks
- A safe place to fail
- Healthy competition
- Socialization and inclusion
- A creative outlet
- Stress relief
In moderation, using video games for any of these above-mentioned reasons is perfectly normal and healthy. Some studies show that playing video games actually has positive side effects including increased confidence, problem-solving skills, and manual dexterity.
Unfortunately, some people struggle to use video games as a hobby and soon let them consume their lives. When this happens, programs like The Mindful Gamer video game addiction treatment and therapy help addicts identify and overcome their gaming addiction.
Can Video Games Cause Depression?
The question that still remains is, used in excess, can video games cause depression?
There’s no cut and dry answer to this, however, studies show that people who are addicted to video games are twice as likely to be depressed as those who don’t. While this is an alarming statistic, the real question is why?
Evidence shows that people with gaming addiction also exhibit symptoms associated with depression. One major hole in this theory is that there’s a difference between being depressed and simply being unhappy. While there are assessments designed to diagnose depression no such evaluation exists for video game addiction or unhappiness. These are often self-diagnosed conditions based strictly on behavioural patterns and observation.
Video game addiction causes many individuals to neglect important people, things, and responsibilities in their life. For example, missing work, neglecting financial responsibilities, and isolating oneself from friends and family are all common side effects of gaming addiction. In turn, these behaviours can create feelings of sadness, isolation, and low self-esteem, causing many gaming addicts to feel hopeless, thus reducing their quality of life.
This sounds an awful lot like someone who’s depressed, doesn’t it?
Because these two conditions are so closely related, many video game addicts are misdiagnosed with depression. A medical professional may suggest antidepressants or other therapies designed to treat depression when, in actuality, the root cause of the individual’s gaming addiction is what needs their attention.
Can Video Games Ease Depression Symptoms?
While there’s some evidence that video game addiction may eventually lead to depression, other studies show that playing video games may actually ease symptoms of depression. Some evidence can be found in the list of reasons why people play video games.
The fact is, many people use video games as a way to cope with their depression. While this may not be the healthiest approach, it’s certainly understandable. When people play video games, they experience a rush of dopamine and serotonin which create feelings of relaxation and happiness, emotions that are often lacking from their lives. It’s this connection between video games and pleasure that often develop into addiction.
Many gamers also report feeling accepted and comfortable socializing in video game communities. This is especially true among individuals suffering from social anxiety. Online gaming communities are often anonymous and free of judgment and ridicule.
When depression symptoms become overwhelming, gamers can escape their troubles and get lost in a virtual world of fantasy and rewards. Many depressed individuals use video games as an outlet for their emotional pain. In many respects, it’s much easier to control what goes on in a video game than it is in real life.
On the scientific side of things, one study shows that gaming can actually suppress negative emotions. Your brain’s amygdala is responsible for controlling feelings of fear and negativity. It’s also where your body’s flight or fight response lives. Playing video games calms down your amygdala, helping to reduce these negative emotions including sadness, shame, and loneliness.
The Pros and Cons of Video Games on Mental Health
Video games have gotten a bad rap over the years. Most people focus on the negative side effects rather than seeing the potential benefits these games offer. When discussing video game addiction and depression, along with other mental health issues, there are pros and cons to consider.
Positive Effects of Video Games on Mental Health
- Video games offer a sense of community and acceptance. Individuals who feel lonely or struggle to connect or form relationships in real life often feel more comfortable doing so in online communities. Here, they can be themselves without fear of judgment over their appearance, background, or social standing. Gamers can also connect with people all around the world and offer a diverse network of friends.
- Video games sharpen your mental focus and may actually help reduce distractions while strengthening your ability to multitask. Gamers are often skilled problem solvers and work well under time constraints. This can translate into the real world, helping depressed or anxious individuals deal better with fast-paced work and social settings.
- Video games are one of the world’s favourite recreational activities. It can reduce stress and increase confidence, two factors that help depressed individuals experience happiness and self-worth.
Negative Effects of Video Games on Mental Health
- Video games may interfere with your natural reward system and ability to set goals outside of the game itself. Your mind has a psychological pattern known as the Triumph circuit. When you overcome a challenge or accomplish a goal, this circuit is what triggers feelings of happiness and confidence. Video game addicts attribute most of their success to the achievements made during gameplay. The danger here occurs when gaming addicts associate all of their accomplishments with video games. This makes it difficult to find inspiration in making real-life achievements.
- Another chemical reaction that occurs during gameplay is the release of dopamine. Dopamine is released when you experience fun or pleasure like you do when playing video games. The problem is, over time, the same level of pleasure or stimulus won’t release the same level of dopamine, causing you to play more video games for longer periods of time to achieve that same sense of satisfaction. This is called a dopamine addiction and can lead to video game addiction.
- Remember how we said that video games suppress negative emotions? While this isn’t harmful to the short-term, long-term dependence on video games for reducing negative feelings can result in Alexithymia. Alexithymia is a lack of emotional awareness. In time, you might find it difficult to identify and distinguish your feelings, making your mental health condition worse and more difficult to diagnose.
Understanding the Relationship Between Video Game Addiction and Depression
Studies are ongoing to determine the link between video games and depression. While some experts believe playing video games is a healthy way to cope with depression, others argue it can mask symptoms and lead to even greater emotional distress.
Whether you’re dealing with depression or addiction of any kind, it’s important to be aware of the warning signs and seek help when needed.