Are Video Games and Depression Connected?

By Stephanie Kirby

Updated June 28, 2019

When it comes to video games and depression, there are contrasting views. Some believe that video games have a negative impact on your mental health and others think they have the ability to help. So which is it? What if it were both?

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The Negative Side to Video Games and Depression

A common belief in society is that the more time people spend playing video games, there is a bigger chance that they will experience depression. This theory gets a lot of attention from parents and others that are worried about the amount of time that teenagers and younger children are spending playing video games.

What Studies Show

While there aren't a lot of studies to prove or disprove their theory, one recent study shows there might be a link to gaming and depression in youth. This study looked at over 3,000 children in grades third, fourth, seventh, and eighth. They tracked results over a two-year period of the impact that their video game usage seemed to have on their mental health. The study found that the children that spend a large amount of time playing video games had a higher risk of depression, anxiety, lower school performance, and social phobias.

Another study that looked at Internet usage of Chinese teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 found similar results. This study found that those students that spend excessive amounts of time on the Internet or twice as likely to have symptoms of depression within nine months. The study noted that most of the time spent on the internet was on gaming.

Are The Studies Right?

There are a few different reasons why people believe that this connection exists. Some believe that the numbers from studies come out like this because children that are more likely to spend more time gaming are usually those that have a harder time connecting with other kids. The study found that these children had lower social competence and a greater impulsivity, which is believed to be why they spent more time gaming.

However, while it looks like this connection does exist, it's still hard to say exclusively that playing the video was the reason for the higher risk of depression and anxiety. It could be that these children had higher levels of depression and anxiety because of the lack of social skills that cause them to play more video games in the first place. So, it's really hard to say if the video games are the cause of the anxiety and depression, or if it's more likely for people including children to spend time playing video games because they have social phobias and depression.

Another belief is that it's not that these children were being impacted by the use of video games but simply that mental health challenges we're developing simultaneously. Meaning, that the age of these children during the study just happened to be the same age that the children were starting to show signs of different mental health disorders for completely unrelated reasons.

What The Video Game Industry Thinks Of It

As you can imagine the video game industry has spent time and money fighting back against these studies. They're working to prove that there is not a direction correlation between video game playing and depression. They call attention to a lot of the other factors that could come into play in these findings.

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Positive Connection Between Video Games and Depression

There's another side to the story as well. There have also been studies conducted that have shown a positive benefit to patients with depression when playing video games. This study found that when patients were actively playing video games, the amount of time they spent ruminating was lower.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of ruminate is "to go over in the mind repeatedly and often casually or slowly".

Rumination is a big problem for people that experience depression and anxiety. Often times when someone is depressed it's easy for them to get stuck in their own thoughts. They continue to think on certain situations, scenarios, memories, or other things that are not beneficial to their life. However, when depressed, it is hard to stop these thoughts from coming unless you are actively trying to do so.

This study found that when patients were spending time playing active video games it was forcing their minds to have to focus on the task at hand instead of whatever thoughts were naturally coming into their head. This has a positive impact on people that are struggling with depression.

What Else Comes Into Play?

While it does seem evident that there are connections between video game playing and depression, it's not an open and shut case.

Even with studies showing that children that play extended amounts of video games have a higher risk of depression and anxiety, there are too many unknowns to really make a clear connection. It could be that these children were already predisposed to depression. And, it could be that their environmental situations created a better chance of them becoming depressed.

And, while some studies have shown the benefits that gaming can have on those with depression, this is not something that could be true of everyone. While gaming may help some to stop ruminating, it may help others to avoid social interactions with other people, which would be a negative connection.

The most important thing to consider is the personal impact that gaming is having on you, or your children. Make sure that you are taking note of how your mental health is both before and after you spend time gaming. If you find that you are increasingly becoming more depressed, then it may be good for you to take time away from video games. However, if you are experiencing high levels of depression and can't seem to keep your mind under control, playing video games could be what you need top shift your attention on something else and off of your mental health challenges.

Depression Symptoms To Watch For

Depression can look a lot of ways. If you're trying to see if gaming has an impact on your mental health then it's important for you to understand what the symptoms of depression are.

Many people think that if someone is depressed they are overwhelmingly sad. While this can be what depression is like for some people, it's not the case for everyone. There are some people who experience depression that feel empty and no emotion at all. There are others that have increasing levels of anger and irritability. And many people experience physical symptoms of depression as well. This can include digestive issues, headaches, cramping, and aches and pains. Other symptoms to watch for include a change in sleep and appetite.

If you want to see how gaming is impacting symptoms that you have, you could try keeping a log. Throughout the day see how your mood is as well as how you're feeling physically and mentally. If you track this several times throughout the day and over at least several days you may begin to see a connection for yourself. It could be that gaming is having a positive impact on you, or it could be that it's having negative one.

What To Do If You're Depressed

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, it's important that you seek treatment. Depression is a very treatable mental health condition, so there is no reason that you should suffer with any of your symptoms without getting help.

One of the most effective forms of treatment is therapy. An experienced therapist is going to be able to help you learn where your depression is coming from, and also learn what you can do to overcome it. There are many different techniques and strategies that you can learn that will help you deal with your depression.

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In order to meet with a therapist, you can choose to find one in your local area, or you can choose online therapy options. Online therapy allows you to get the help from a professional therapist that you need from the comfort of your own home.

If you think that your gaming time could be affecting your mental health, then it's important that you communicate that to your therapist. Or, if you're interested in seeing if gaming is able to help improve your depression, talk to your therapist about this as well. They will be able to provide you with some guidance and direction as well as what symptoms to watch to see if it is actually having a negative impact on you instead.

If you find that gaming is having a negative impact on you, it might not mean that you have to give up games all together. It just might mean that you need to learn how to limit the time that you spend on it. It's very easy to fall into a virtual world in order to escape the world that you're living in. But, the best way to address problems that you're having in life is to face them head-on while getting help from a therapist if needed.


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