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Video games could help adolescents with depression

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A new study suggests that the treatment of young people with depression can be just as effective through a 3D computer game as it can through face-to-face counselling.

Available on the British Medical Journal website, the research found that many adolescents feel uncomfortable seeking help for mental health issues.

The researchers therefore decided to create an interactive, self-help fantasy game called Sparx, in which players pick avatars and then have to restore balance by overcoming difficulties in a virtual place overpopulated with ‘Gnats’ (Gloomy Negative Automatic Thoughts).

The game adopts cognitive behavioural therapy techniques to help youngsters, and the study found it was just as beneficial as more common treatments as it lessened symptoms of depression and anxiety by at least 33%.

In fact, many more of the 187 young New Zealanders in the study made complete recoveries in the computer-playing group.

Of the youngsters who completed four or more Sparx modules, 44% made a recovery, whereas only 26% of the youngsters having face-to-face counselling did so.

The study’s authors, based at the University of Auckland and the University of Otago, said Sparx is an “effective resource for help seeking adolescents with depression at primary healthcare sites.

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

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