Video games being used to treat depression

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(Credit: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Man holding Sony controller at E3 2014

(Credit: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

As the world continues to reel from the death of beloved comic actor Robin Williams, the topic of depression is getting some much needed attention.

Now psychologists are hoping to use video games -- one of Williams' favorite leisure activities -- to help people who suffer from the disease.

Tracy Dennis, a psychology professor at Hunter College of the City University of New York, has created an app game called “Personal Zen” designed to lower the stress level of players. In ideal circumstances, the app is meant to be played 2-3 times per week for 15-30 minutes, though it can also help lower stress before or during a situation that induces stressful feelings.

The National Institute of Health is interested in the benefits of games as a tool against depression, funding a study on the topic and telling CBS “Gaming technologies may offer promising new ways to supplement traditional medical care.”

A game, of course, won't prevent tragic incidents like Williams' death, and it's by no means a cure to the problem of depression. But scientists hope that these sorts of stress-relieving games could give a small modicum of relief to people who might suffer from depression or anxiety, but refuse to seek treatment for it.

"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," says clinical psychologist Scott Bea.

The CDC estimates that one out of every 10 people suffers from some form of depression, with 121 million people around the world being affected by the disease.

This isn't the first time scientists have explored the anti-depressive qualities of games. Two years ago, researchers in New Zealand created a fantasy game called SPARX where players attempted to kill creatures that represented negative thoughts. A study of 168 teens (two-thirds of which were girls) who played the game found that 44 percent who played the game completely recovered from their depression, while two-thirds showed at least a 30 percent reduction in symptoms.

Despite the fact that early feedback from the more recent tests around using games as an aid in helping against depression and anxiety are encouraging, psychologists say it's still much too early to consider prescribing them as part of a treatment plan.

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