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Gaming and Depression: Is There a Connection?

March 28, 2024

Whether you have an ongoing mental health struggle or you simply need a pick-me-up now and then, you’re probably looking for something to help you feel better. If you already have a penchant for snuggling up with a cozy game, help might be closer than you think.

Video games and depression may have a connection. Follow along to learn more about how video games can help support a healthy mind, how to protect your mental health while gaming, and how you can receive mental health support while playing your favorite games.

What Is the Link Between Video Games and Depression?

Have you ever felt lighter after playing a relaxing session of Animal Crossing: New Horizons? It’s not just in your head — research now shows that playing video games can actually provide support when experiencing symptoms of depression

There are many ways that video games can support your mental health, but the most important way is by providing community. Lots of gamers play with real-life friends, especially friends who are long-distance. Plus, if you play for long enough, you’ll probably end up making some in-game friends, too.

Impact of Loneliness on Health

There’s a reason that community is one of the biggest ways gaming can support your emotional well-being. Feeling lonely is a risk factor for excessive drinking and can even harm your physical health. It can affect your heart health and even lower your immunity.

Social isolation is also linked to severe depression, as you might have guessed. Not having a circle of support can make symptoms of depression feel overwhelming, and being isolated can contribute to mental illness in and of itself.

What Are the Benefits of Gaming?

Playing video games isn’t just fun and relaxing — it can also help support emotional health and self-esteem. One systematic review found that playing video games can bring out feelings of joy, appreciation, and happiness. It also found that playing video games can help people feel less isolated and improve negative emotions.

This applies to people of all ages, including young adult and adult populations. For instance, adolescents who played video games showed better emotional regulation than non-gamers. Playing video games can also help support better cognitive function and help players feel more optimistic about achieving their goals.

What Are Some Important Ways to Protect Your Mental Health While Gaming?

Although there are many benefits to playing video games, it’s important to protect your mental health while you’re playing. Like anything in life, too much of a good thing can go south if you aren’t careful. 

Here are a few ways you can support your mental health during video game use:

Prioritize Sleep

We know how it is — you plan to be in bed by 10 PM, but then you get lost in your virtual world, and, next thing you know, it’s 2 AM. It’s happened to the best of us, and it’s easy to do when tending your onscreen garden makes you feel so relaxed.

However, it’s important to make sure you prioritize your sleep. According to the professionals, most adults need at least seven hours a night — getting less than this can have negative effects on your mental health. Make sure you set a regular bedtime and fall asleep on time so that you can protect your mental health for the long term.

Balance Gaming With Other Activities in Your Life

Curling up with your favorite game and some delicious takeout might be the epitome of relaxation, but you should also balance your gaming time with other activities. It’s important to also spend time cultivating your other hobbies, whether painting, reading, gardening, or cooking.

If you find yourself unable to stop playing video games or if you’re not happy with your real life, you may want to consult a mental health professional. Excessive gaming can be a sign of a video game addiction or an underlying mental disorder. If you notice unhealthy gaming habits in yourself or a loved one, it might be time to get professional help.

Keep Active if Possible

With the rise of virtual reality systems, we’re looking forward to the day when we can simultaneously exercise and play video games. Until then, remember to take breaks from your gaming setup to get moving.

Stay active to the best of your ability, whether that looks like hitting the gym, taking a short walk, or even just standing up once in a while. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly.

Consider What Games You Choose to Play

While there’s plenty of research showing that playing video games can help mental health, it’s important to choose your games wisely. Playing violent video games every day has been connected with increased symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD).

In this case, the term “violent video games” describes any game that almost always involves physical fighting, shooting, killing, or otherwise hurting another player. Instead, you may want to stick with cozy-core games like Stardew Valley, Dorfromantik, and Cozy Grove.

Engage in Social Interactions

Many of us use games as a way to socialize. Similarly to how we use social media to stay in touch, many gamers either catch up with friends over their favorite multiplayer games or make new friends online. However, maintaining face-to-face interactions in the real world may be a great way for some individuals to improve symptoms of clinical depression.

Try to break up your screen time with in-person group activities, coffee with a friend, a local trivia night, or even a date with your partner. Even if you don’t have much of a social circle yet, you can try out different social networking events to try and find a group you fit in with.

Find Support Groups

Speaking of finding groups, finding a support group can make all the difference when it comes to your mental health. Simply talking to people who understand your struggle and seeing physical proof that you’re not alone is like a breath of fresh air, especially when you’re dealing with depression or social anxiety.

Hero Journey Club: Find Support Through Therapeutic Gaming Groups

If you’re looking for a group that can support you, laugh with you, and cry while playing your favorite low-stakes video game, take a deep breath — you’ve found it. At Hero Journey Club, we offer professionally-led mental health support groups that you can attend anonymously while gaming. 

Here’s what you can expect after your Hero Journey group meetup:

Develop Social Skills

Attending a support group in a video game setting can be a great way to develop your social skills. You have the option to join anonymously, and you can even choose to simply listen and only speak when you’re comfortable. This allows you to practice social skills in a forgiving environment with people who understand and are growing their social skills, too.

Foster a Welcoming Community

One of the best parts of attending a mental health support group is the community that can arise from it. Many of our support groups have gone on to become virtual friends and even meet outside of support sessions just to hang out and catch up with each other over their favorite games.

Improve Emotional Regulation

We’ve all had moments where our emotions got the better of us — it’s just part of being human. However, developing good emotional regulation skills is an important part of improving mental health. 

Fortunately, playing video games has been found to encourage emotional regulation and reduce emotional fluctuation. Add in a mental health support environment, and you can learn new coping skills and emotional regulation techniques.

Reduce Stress and Manage Symptoms

Did you know that many people who are diagnosed with depression also struggle with anxiety? Unfortunately, these mental health concerns often go hand in hand. Luckily, playing video games can also help with symptoms of stress and anxiety

Plus, you’ll have the opportunity to work through any life concerns and practice your social skills, which can help you feel more confident over time.

What Are the Results of Joining the Hero Journey Club?

If you’re interested in joining the Hero Journey Club, don’t just take our word for it — let our results speak for themselves. In one of our in-house studies, 93 percent of our clients said they felt better after each group session. Also, 74 percent of our clients showed actual improvements in mental health markers for depression and anxiety after 30 to 60 days from their first session.

Find Support in Your Favorite Activities

If you’ve ever heard that video games cause depression, think again! Current research shows that playing video games may actually improve depression as long as you take care of your mental health while you play. 

This is great news for anyone who likes to spend their Friday evenings queued up with their favorite game and a candle burning in the background.

If you’d like extra help, consider joining a mental health support group at the Hero Journey Club. We’re here to provide the support needed to make it through a difficult time.

Sources:

Winning The Game Against Depression: A Systematic Review of Video Games for the Treatment of Depressive Disorders | Current Psychiatry Reports

The risks of social isolation | APA

Gaming Your Mental Health: A Narrative Review on Mitigating Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety Using Commercial Video Games | PMC

Violent Video Game Exposure and Problem Behaviors among Children and Adolescents: The Mediating Role of Deviant Peer Affiliation for Gender and Grade Differences | PMC

Why Do We Need Sleep? |The Sleep Foundation

The Importance of Face-to-Face Contact and Reciprocal Relationships and their Associations with Depressive Symptoms and Life Satisfaction | PMC

American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids | AHA

Gaming well: links between videogames and flourishing mental health | FrontiersIn

Gaming Your Mental Health: A Narrative Review on Mitigating Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety Using Commercial Video Games | PMC