Mental Illness can be a tricky thing. Those suffering with anxiety and depression can often feel hopeless and have no idea what to do with themselves when they are feeling their worst. A natural place to turn to, assuming one has the energy to even do that, would be video games.
Anxiety and depression are closely linked. 85% of those who suffer from major depression are also diagnosed with a general anxiety disorder. For periods of anxiety, games really can help. One part of what makes anxiety so hard to manage is this sense that you can’t control anything. Games are something you can control, and they’re pretty decent forms of escapism; they can really require intense concentration which is awesome when your mind wants to wander to stressful matters.
Researchers at Michigan State University have managed to create a game that helps relieve the symptoms of anxiety. The game, which requires intense focus, manages to distract players from their anxiety, whether that anxiety be rooted in real world issues or just seems to be happening at random. Further research indicated that many games that advertise the ability to reduce anxiety rarely work for this. Speaking from an anecdotal standpoint, however, I can attest that some games, even if their purpose has nothing to do with managing anxiety, can be great stress relievers and can help users calm down.
One such game is BIT.TRIP Presents…Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien. This colorful game tasks players with rhythmically traversing a 2D, platforming stage. Their inputs make sounds that fit into the game’s soundtrack. It can be incredibly tough and requires a certain level of mastery. Fortunately, the stages don’t just kick you out for a loss, but throw you back to a checkpoint, allowing you to handle progression in little, bite-sized chunks. Other games that might be worth trying for a similar effect are Entwined on PS4, or pretty much any bullet hell game.
Depression can be a bit trickier to manage through games. It’s true that depressed people often turn to games and can even experience addiction, but this seems to do little towards actually managing symptoms. One facet of depression is the notion that one is all alone or unable to be understood. For this reason, games about depression can offer a certain therapeutic comfort.
The first game in this category to spring to mind is the now controversial title, Depression Quest. This text based adventure tries to simulate living a life with depression based on the author’s experiences and ends up hitting a lot of the right notes. For a depressed player, there will be plenty of “yes, that’s totally how it is!” moments. It can be touching and help a person feel less alone. There are also more game-y games about depression out there for those who want something a bit different. Elude and Inner Vision are two notable examples.
Video games will never be enough to totally manage depression or anxiety, though. In some cases, they may just be tools in your arsenal for when things get bad. Games can be fun, and fun can be an important part of self-care. You’re allowed to take a break from life from time to time to relax and unwind. Let them steal your focus. Play multiplayer with others, if that’s your thing. Just make sure you don’t forget about your real life support groups, which can be a tendency of depressed people; especially with MMOs.