In the following brief review, the reader will learn a little about some basic elements of mental health games, as well as some examples of them that could be used by anyone who needs them.
Mental health games
Mental health games is a topic that has been in public discussion for a few years and refers to the use of different types of games to improve the conditions of people with mental illness. You can also refer to games that, in an educational way, teach people tools that help them to have better mental health (for example, coping skills, reasoning activities).
When talking about mental health treatments, as well as promotion and prevention programs, it is normal to imagine a standard environment and context. We imagine that people need to go to a hospital or mental health center, consult with a professional, attend group work sessions, in others.
While the above is true, and there are typical tools that remain at the forefront when it comes to treating mental disorders, it is also true that in recent decades, with the advance of knowledge and also new technologies, alternatives have opened up when it comes to treating mental problems, as well as using different tools for their promotion and prevention.
Mental health games: how?
For example, Mental Health Delta Division presents a series of resources for people to use in the treatment of mental illnesses or problems. Among the various tools available, it is possible to find a list of games related to different themes, which have the potential to make a contribution to the recovery and/or maintenance of mental health in adults, youth and children.
A summary of some of them will be presented at the presentation so that the readers of this article can get an idea of how the different games could contribute to people’s mental health.
Mental health games: anger
One of the games we found is one where people (specifically teenagers and older youth) can achieve at least two goals that can help them improve their mental health.
Through this game, people who use it can learn to identify some triggers of anger or rage, as well as learn some notions of how to quickly create a plan to deal with anger. As we can see, it has two specific and well-focused objectives, so that players can get a clear benefit from this tool.
At the end of the game, it is possible to print a sheet with information about the finished exercise, which would help to have a memory aid when putting into practice what was learned in the game.
Mental health games: learning a bit about anxiety
In this case, the game is called “Anatomy of a Panic Attack”, and presents in a simple and funny way the symptoms of a panic attack, or at least those that are more evident and easy to recognize. It also presents some practical tips to use in case you have a panic attack.
Bullying: is this also related to mental health?
As we will see, mental health games present a diversity of alternatives. Among them, we also find a game, aimed at children between 8 and 12 years old, wherein a very simple and visually pleasant way, they can learn some basic aspects of bullying. Frequently, mental health games have the format of educational tools.
In this game, children can learn what is bullying, in a simple way, what are the feelings that appear because of bullying, some tips to deal with bullies, as well as some information to understand them and why they do it. Finally, the game presents some questions for the child to ask himself if he is a bully.
Mental health games: depression, the most common mental illness
You couldn’t miss a game that involves learning about depression, could you? This is one of the most common mental illnesses in the world. From this game, children between the ages of 8 and 12 can learn what depression is and what to do when a person (or oneself) is feeling low.
As we see in the examples above, mental health is largely about learning about those problems and disorders that exist and that almost anyone could develop at some point in their life. Many of the problems caused by mental illness stem from a lack of information about basic aspects of normal and abnormal psychological functioning.
Mental health games: the case of video games, are they also an option?
As part of the proposals generated in the context of mental health games, we also find video games, tremendously powerful tools nowadays, when devices and software tools allow a very wide range of possibilities when it comes to creating content of this type.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, being the most prevalent mental illness. Given this, many efforts have been made to generate new ways of intervening in mental illness, including video games.
Video games contain some features that are very interesting and potentially useful in the treatment of mental illness. For example, there are aspects that can be achieved around interactivity (the possibility of the player taking an active role and being able to perform a diverse series of actions within the game).
On the other hand, there are the possibilities related to the aesthetics of the game. Everything related to its shape, color proposal, visual properties in general that, hand in hand with advances in research, can become powerful tools to intervene in mental illness in some way in particular.
Finally, it is also possible to play with the narrative of the games. It is worth mentioning that in psychological therapies (or “talking therapies“) great importance is given to the construction of “a new story” about oneself and the symptoms that the person begins to discover as components of his mental problem.
Mental health games: what’s the matter with playing?
In addressing this issue of mental health games, you may ask yourself how playing something can impact on mental health. How might a person with depression benefit from playing a game? It may seem absurd to some people, may not it? Here’s how absurd it is.
Within research in psychology and also in pedagogy, there’s been a lot of talk about games and their impact on psychological variables in general. Whether the focus is on education or on learning social skills, it has been known for some time that games involve a series of factors of great importance and, above all, with a very great potential for change.
One only needs to think about the importance of play in children’s development to get a glimpse of its potential in other aspects of life and at other times in the life cycle.
Have you noticed what happens when children play? They usually do it in groups, it is a shared activity in most cases. We tend to see play as an activity where there are rules and the only thing that matters is that children have fun. “They’re just playing!” many would say in this situation.
Let’s think of a game where there are certain roles and each child must adjust to them. Let’s say they are on a mission of exploration in a jungle, and each of them has a different task. One of the children may be in charge of collecting the most exotic plants, two more are in charge of hunting the most dangerous animals, to protect the group.
And the missing child has the task of carrying the map and guiding the whole group to the right place so that they do not get lost and get into a dangerous situation. Under this example, the first thing to point out is that role-playing is something that remains throughout the lives of human beings.
And it is in games that children begin to “train” themselves to have the capacity to adjust to these roles. On the one hand, children have the pressure that others put on them, by reminding them when they have not done their job well, or blaming them if there was a mistake related to one of their roles.
On the other hand, when children are playing, they are also committed to the interests of that small group, and they protest and get angry when one of their peers is not doing his or her part of the job. “He just doesn’t know how to play!” When children say this, they usually mean that some of the participants are not fulfilling their role satisfactorily.
Mental health games: so why are games important?
Let’s go back to the example and what we mentioned earlier. What happens in games is that, among other things, there are roles and functions to be fulfilled. Although it is a free activity that we enjoy, it is not free of some small responsibilities, which we enjoy doing.
When this happens, a window opens that allows changes to be made at the mental level. Through the commitment with the games, in themselves, people commit with the knowledge, ideas, practices, among others that are promoted inside the game, and it is usual that in a conscious or not way, all that they learn is used in the daily life.
Not just mental health games but when you meet your friends and have a party or a sleep over, you can play Never Have I Ever with them. It’ll be a nice way to bond with them and have fun.
If you don’t know what questions to ask your friends in the game, we have a list of Never Have I Ever Questions for you.
Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.
Mental health games are a relatively new and very interesting alternative for the treatment of mental disorders, as well as for the implementation of mental health promotion and prevention strategies, which otherwise might be more difficult to implement.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about mental health games
Do video games improve mental health?
Video games have the potential to improve the mental health of the people who play them. In fact, some of them have been used for the treatment of depression and anxiety.
Can video games be therapeutic?
Under certain circumstances, and through a controlled and targeted implementation, video games can become a tool to support the treatment of mental illness.
Are video games good for your health?
Both for mental functioning and other physical aspects, video games have been shown to have a beneficial potential for people who need them. Of course, they should not be used as the only form of treatment.
Do video games cause depression?
Under certain circumstances, excessive and uncontrolled use of video games can cause symptoms of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem in players. This is not the case generally, as video games also have the potential to treat mental illness.
What are the benefits of gaming?
Some of the benefits of gaming include the following: improved functioning of memory systems, improved problem-solving ability, improved ability to multi-task, improved speed of brain processing, among others.
- More Creative Coping Skills for Children: Activities, Games, Stories, and Handouts to Help Children Self-regulate
- Listening to My Body: A guide to helping kids understand the connection between their sensations (what the heck are those?) and feelings so that they can get better at figuring out what they need.
- The Mood Cards: Make Sense of Your Moods and Emotions for Clarity, Confidence and Well-Being (MOOD Series)
- Mental Health Delta Division. Interactive Games
- Video games for mental health (paper)
- Games for Emotional and Mental Health (GEMH) Lab