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Video games can help teens beat depression

Specialised video games can help teens overcome depression just as well as one-on-one therapy from a GP or nurse, research claims.

Study published in the British Medical Journal suggests video games may be a cheaper alternative to usual care.

Researchers from the University of Auckland, New Zealand analysed the effects of a new computerised cognitive behavioural therapy on around 69 teens who were deemed to require treatment for mild to moderate depression by primary healthcare professionals.

The interactive 3D fantasy game SPARX allows a user to undertake a series of challenges to restore balance in a virtual world dominated by GNATs (Gloomy Negative Automatic Thoughts).

The seven modules of the game are designed to be completed over a four to seven week period.

The effects of SPARX were compared to “usual care” results - in which 83 teens received one-on-one face-to-face counselling with a GP or nurse.

Results showed SPARX was as effective as usual care in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety by at least a third.

In addition, it was found significantly more people recovered completely in the SPARX group (44%) compared with (26%) in usual care.

Both groups reported the same level of satisfaction with the treatment they received, with 81% claiming they would recommend their experience to friends. 

“SPARX is an effective resource for help seeking adolescents with depression at primary healthcare sites,” said the researchers.

“Use of the programme resulted in a clinically significant reduction in depression, anxiety, and hopelessness and an improvement in quality of life.”

They claim SPARX is a potential alternative to usual care and could be used to address unmet demand for treatment.

Have your say: Do you think specialised video games like SPARX can potentially be an alternative therapy to "usual care"?