When it comes to video games and mental illness and whether it helps or not, there's an argument for both sides. You could probably find just as many stories online against using gaming as either therapy or a direct link that they turn you into a 'psycho' (usually from shocking headlines in tabloid newspapers) as ones that support it.
Video games can act as a coping mechanism, a way to escape how you're feeling, to connect with others or just to lose yourself in another world for a little while.
We don't represent it here as anything other than a possible option for you. If you don't think it's something that interests you, that's absolutely fine but, in our experience, it's proved beneficial.
You will have no doubt heard it said many times that, when it comes to mental illness, you can't really understand it unless you've been (or are going) through it yourself. This lack of understanding and empathy is one of the reasons stigma still rears its ugly head with the population in general and why relationships can be strained between partners on both sides of the mental illness fence.
READY PLAYER ONE.
Video games are one of the few mediums that truly let you experience someone else's perspective, even if it is only as a pixel or polygon. As a character in the game, you make choices and see the consequences of those decisions within the game. It becomes your reality, even if it's only a virtual one.
Gaming can be a perfectly normal part of your life, or it can be a dysfunctional influence. If it helps you to play FIFA for hours on end to escape your depression and then you go about your normal day, feeling better, then that's great. If you become so addicted it begins to affect your life to the point where it's stopping you going out, mixing with family or friends, forgetting to go to work then it becomes dysfunctional. You probably want to avoid the latter.
Research from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Germany has shown that playing video games allows areas of the brain to improve, in particular those concerned with spatial orientation, the formation of memories, planning and even your motor skills (the movement of muscles, not your car mechanic skills). This could be therapeutic for those with schizophrenia and PTSD, conditions that reduce or alter the brain's hippocampal structure. Incidentally, we are most certainly NOT suggesting sitting in front of your video console for hours on end is any sort of 'cure'. You know you better than anyone that if it helps you to play, then it helps you to play.
Video games aren't just about shooting anything that moves or defeating aliens from another world. There are a number of video games out there that don't shy away from mental illness. Some do it through barely-disguised, clumsy, stereotypical 'psycho' characters that we've all seen and yawned at a million times before, but there are some below that take a much more realistic and often subtly understated look at mental illness including:
Life Is Strange (PlayStation 3 and 4 / XBOX 360 & One / PC)
Child of Light (PlayStation 3, 4 and Vita / PC / Nintendo Wii U / PC / XBOX 360, One)
The Unfinished Swan (PlayStation 3, 4 and Vita)
If any of you fancy joining the team at Men Tell Health for a spot of online gaming (on PS4) then please add us to your friends list. Just search for 'MenTellHealth' on the PlayStation Network.
We've also found a number of games and applications that you can 'play' which can have a relaxing effect on you, and you don't need a console to play them. These apps can be downloaded to your smartphone and enjoyed anywhere. These include (but limited to):
If you have anymore that have helped you (on any platform), please let us know and we'll add them to the list.
One thing that's worth noting is that there are some games specifically about mental illness. We make no statement about them as anything other than art, observation or just the accepted knowledge that you're not the only going through it, but they're linked below if you're interested in trying them out. If you know of any more worth adding, please just let us know.
Also, beware of any possible triggers. Remember, these are the experiences of those people who designed the game which may, or may not, be the same as yours.
Depression Quest - A honest (sometimes brutally honest) interactive fiction game where you play as someone living with depression.
There Are Monsters Under Your Bed - An adventure game that addresses BDD, depression and anxiety within a horror-style framework told from the perspective of the protagonist and player character. It has mental illness as the sole focus of the game, rather than a character or plot device.
A Song For Viggo (still in development at the time of writing).
Actual Sunlight - A short interactive story about love, depression and the corporation.
Finally, for all you coders and programmers out there and, whilst not a game as such, Asylum Jam is an annual 48-hour long gaming 'jam' where game developers are challenged to make a horror game and explore the genre without negative mental health or medical stereotypes. Something that is easier said than done. Find out more at www.asylumjam.com
If you have an experiences of how video games have helped you through mental illness, please share your story with our community. You can find out more at our Men Tell section.