Teens who suffer from depression but feel reluctant to go to a therapist can get help from video games, new research published in the journal BMJ shows. The study, which was conducted in New Zealand, makes use of a newly developed video game called SPARX to give teens cognitive behavioral therapy. The acronym means "smart, positive, active, realistic, and X-factor thoughts" and aims to help teens conquer depression by defeating "gloomy negative automatic thoughts" in a virtual world.

Players use an avatar to navigate seven levels of the world. Each level addresses particular problems related to depression. For example, the first level, called Cave Province, gives teens information about the condition. Another level called Volcano Province helps them deal with anger.

Researchers tested the game on 168 teens who had previously asked for help with depression from guidance counselors or doctors. Almost two-thirds of them were girls. Half of the group continued going to therapy (five sessions of one-on-one counseling), while the other half played SPARX.

Results showed that 44 percent of the SPARX players successfully recovered from depression. Meanwhile, only 26 percent of those attending regular treatment did. Out of the gamers, 60 percent experienced at least a 30-percent decrease in depression symptoms.

This study shows that while having face-to-face therapy is crucial for developing better mental health, there are other tools that can also help depressed teens, especially if they're worried about the stigma that sometimes comes with seeing a therapist.


(Photo by Sklathill via Flickr Creative Commons)

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