(CBS) — Would you believe that video games could actually help people who suffer from mental health issues?
Some new games are specifically targeted to do just that, and they have some psychologists calling it a revolution in treatment.
When Cheri Plevek heard that playing games could help her fight her lifelong battle against depression and anxiety, she had to give it a try.
“You have quests that you do and you earn points by doing something as simple as getting up out of your chair and getting moving, to calling a friend, hugging yourself,” Plevek says.
According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 15 million Americans suffer from major depressive disorder, and 40 million from an anxiety disorder.
That’s why psychologists are now looking at these video games as a new way to reach those who need help.
“A lot of them look exactly the same as games that someone could play just for fun. So they may have cartoon characters, they could have missions, but embedded in that game are treatment mechanisms,” psychology professor Tracy Dennis says.
She designed one such game, “Personal Zen,” which is an app for your smartphone.
Her published research findings show that after playing the game for 20 minutes, the brain starts processing negative information differently.
“We can train an anxious person to pay less attention to threat, to pay more attention to positive things in the game, and then that eventually transfers to how they look at and pay attention in the real world,” Dennis says.
The federal government is funding a study to measure the effectiveness of a different game – “Superbetter” – saying, “Gaming technologies may offer promising new ways to supplement traditional medical care.”
“I think people resist less if it feels like a game, if it feels like fun. And we can train people even while they’re having fun,” Cleveland clinic clinical psychologist Scott Bea says.
But he is concerned that some people may underestimate the seriousness of their treatment and play a game, rather than seek professional help.
“The game itself might not be tailored enough to their specific condition, so again, we may be missing the target if we don’t have some guidance on what the real target is,” Bea says.
Cheri plays the game in addition to her regular therapy.
“It’s a joy, a joy to play,” she says.
Both psychologists agree more research on these games is needed before doctors start prescribing them as treatment.