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Could Pokémon Go Have Some Mental Health Benefits?

     

Pokémon Go, a GPS-integrated game app that lets you interact with and catch imaginary creatures in real time, has been a whopping success. For many, often inadvertently, it has become much more than just a game — it has led to positive lifestyle changes with a large impact.

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Buzzfeed News recently shared that the game is helping people with a range of issues, including mental health. Players' blogs and posts have credited the game with helping alleviate their symptoms of agoraphobia, anxiety, depression and more by encouraging them to travel around their neighborhood, explore, interact and socialize with other players. For example, an 18–year old with complex PTSD, having rarely left the house for three years due to extreme avoidance, was finally able to put himself in social situations (including a crowded mall), overcoming his anxieties in order to catch Pokémon. Another 21–year old with borderline personality disorder, depression and social anxiety spent all day outdoors in her city of Nova Scotia catching Pokémon and meeting other players, a huge breakthrough after years of struggling with depression and anxiety.

Kara Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, explains: "I see Pokémon Go being useful with my socially anxious and agoraphobic patients in two ways. It really gives them a set of tools and reasons to meet people. It is a naturally structured experiment where it draws people in to connect and is partially reinforcing, which is the best mechanism for rewarding behavior." She adds that playing Pokémon Go allows people who are "normally focused on their internal experience to focus attention away to their external experience."

The untold benefits of games like Pokémon Go are also likely related to activity and stimulation. Behavioral activation is a well–known component of comprehensive treatment for depression and anxiety. And flooding or exposure therapy has been shown to be helpful in anxiety and certain phobias. Research has shown antidepressant effects with exercise. Game play has also reportedly led to improvements in weight loss and the fight against obesity, with players logging several to dozens of miles daily they would not have otherwise walked.

TechCrunch recently announced that Pokémon Go has an estimated 30 to 45 million users. Across the world, restaurants, banks and popular gathering spots have become Poké stops. With such an enormous presence and influence, it is an exciting time to see what opportunities may lie ahead for mental health and wellness. Apps like Pokémon Go are not a substitute for professional mental health treatment. However, their potential adjunct role — and promise — deserve attention, acknowledgement and further investigation.

About the Author

Shebani Sethi Dalai, M.D., M.S.
Resident Physician, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Stanford University School of Medicine

     

AnxietyADHDBipolar DisordersDepressionAutismPatients and FamiliesHoarding DisorderOCDPersonality DisordersAddictionPTSD

 

Comments (6) Add a Comment

  • Monica

    It's so great to see that something like Pokémon Go is actually helping people more than just being a game. Great read.

  • Nidhi Sharma

    Never realized that Pokeman Go can has such benefits. Really interesting findings here.

  • cathy feng

    what an interesting article! Great to know that games out there may have mental benefits. I better continue playing my Pokemon go!

  • Georgy Kartashov

    Thank you Dr. Sethi for providing a very unconventional view on the implications of the game on society. The article is very well written and is helpful for seeing the benefits of the game.

  • Japna Sethi

    Is there longitudinal data on how geo-local games or apps help people with these disorders over time? I'm wondering, after the hype finishes, if patients revert to their previous behaviors.

  • Michael Farinacci

    Talking to strangers is difficult for most people even if they are not suffering from agoraphobia, anxiety, depression. I generally agree that Pokemon Go can help overcome initial social awkwardness for people suffering from anxiety in ways that structured activities cannot. While it's significantly easier to connect with people through sports, clubs, and classes because there is already shared interests and experiences, Pokemon Go lowers the barrier of entry because the user merely needs to download an app.

 

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