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Updated on December 28, 2022
6 min read

Video Games and Depression

Can Video Games Cause Depression?

There is a lot of debate surrounding the question of whether or not video games can cause depression. Some experts argue that excessive gaming harms mental health. Others claim that there is no definitive link between depression and gaming.

One possible explanation for the conflicting research findings is that different people may experience different effects from gaming. Some people are more susceptible to the negative effects of gaming. Others may experience no change or even benefit from playing video games.

Study Shows Too Much Gaming Affects Mood

One study from Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking found that playing high-violence video games for ≥2 hours per day is associated with more depressive symptoms.1

The study showed a more definitive link between violent video game exposure and depression than previous studies.

If gaming habits are damaging your mood and mental health, it may be time to consider cutting back or taking a break. Addiction, as well as negative mental health consequences, are a risk with too much gaming.

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How Does Gaming Cause Depression?

Gaming can cause depression in people for many reasons.

For example, playing violent games might desensitize players to violence. It dulls emotions connected to real life.

Gaming can become an addictive behavior that is difficult for some people to break free from. This leads to feelings of hopelessness when they're unable to stop.

Finally, gaming can also become a social activity for many people. And while gaming has a social aspect, it’s not a replacement for face-to-face time spent with other people.

How Many Hours of Playing Video Games is Unhealthy?

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology recommends the following:

  • Screen time only for video chats with family members for children 18 months and younger
  • Supervised screen time only for educational purposes for children 18 to 24 months
  • No more than 1 hour of screen time per weekday and 3 hours per weekend day for children ages 2 to 5
  • Screen time but with limits and encouragement of healthy habits for children 6 and older2

The Academy sets no specific time on how many hours per day should be spent gaming by older children.

In adults, too much gaming can lead to addiction. According to one study from the American Journal of Psychiatry, as many as one percent of Americans might have an internet gaming disorder.3 

Gaming and Addiction

Gaming disorder includes experiencing at least five of the following nine criteria during a 12-month period, such as: 

  • Losing interest in other activities
  • Downplaying or lying about gaming habits
  • Experiencing withdrawal when not gaming
  • Gaming to escape or relieve anxiety, guilt
  • Other negative moods

In addition to these physical health consequences, there is growing evidence that excessive gaming can harm other mental health aspects. 

For example, excessive gaming can lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as increased aggression. 

Harvard Health Publishing states, “Gaming has also been associated with sleep deprivation, insomnia, circadian rhythm disorders, depression, aggression, and anxiety.” The publication acknowledges that more studies are needed to establish these connections' validity and strength.4

The negative aspects of playing video games include:

  • Escapism
  • Negative emotions
  • Social dependency
  • Negative social engagement
  • Excessive screen time
  • Addiction or gaming disorder

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Do Video Games Help With Depression?

Playing video games could help with clinical depression when played in healthy amounts.

The mental health benefits of playing video games include:

  • Increased cognitive performance
  • Improved mood
  • Reduction in stress levels
  • Improved visual perception
  • Improved motor coordination
  • Escape into a virtual world 
  • Improved self-esteem 
  • Strengthened problem-solving skills5

One study published in JAMA Network Open showed that 2,000 children who reported video gaming for three hours per day or more performed better on cognitive skills tests. These tests measured impulse control and working memory compared to children who had never played video games.6

It’s still too early to definitively say whether or not commercial video games help depression. However, researchers believe that gaming could play an important role in working towards a wider understanding of mental illness.

Video games may also offer those suffering from depression a way to manage their symptoms effectively.

Treatment for Video Game Addiction

Video game addiction is a serious condition that can have debilitating effects on those suffering from it. Unfortunately, mental health professionals point out that no single treatment approach is effective for dealing with addiction to video games and depression. 

Most addicted gamers experience the best mental health outcomes when they take a multi-faceted approach to gaming addiction. Some people with video game addiction benefit from inpatient treatment, while others do better with an outpatient program.

Some psychological therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or family-based therapy, have shown some success in helping people manage their addiction symptoms. 

Other, more-aggressive treatments like medications or electroconvulsive therapy, are occasionally appropriate for more severe cases of video game addiction.

Other Treatment Options

It’s also recommended that addicted video gamers incorporate the following into their lives:

  • Regular exercise
  • Time in nature
  • Healthy sleep routine
  • Well-balanced meals
  • Regular social activities

The best treatment approaches for each person will depend on several factors. This includes: 

  • The severity of their condition
  • Nature and extent of their symptoms
  • Any co-occurring medical conditions contributing to their symptoms

Additionally, many individuals find that seeing a therapist or joining a support group can help them manage their addiction and improve their overall mental health.

Three-Part Plan to Combat Gaming Addiction

Many people struggling with video game addiction find that the following three-part plan helped them manage their addiction:

  • Structure: Observing a consistent bedtime and wake-up time daily. Setting three small goals you would like to accomplish each day (one thing from each category of structure, activity, or connection). A healthy diet with regular mealtimes is important.
  • Activity: Incorporating at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise, outdoors when possible, into their daily routine. Engaging in activities every day that don’t include the use of technology.
  • Connection: Socializing with friends and family, attending support groups, and spending time reflecting or meditating. 

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Summary

Video games are an opportunity for fun, but some people spend too much time playing games. It’s possible that too much gaming can lead to addiction.

Although some research suggests that it might be beneficial for your mental health when you play video games sometimes, there is strong evidence that spending too much time gaming negatively affects both physical and mental health. 

If you find yourself or your children experiencing or exhibiting addictive behaviors, it’s important to take steps to reduce this behavior. This may include limiting the time you or your children spend gaming, using parental control software on gaming devices, and incorporating other activities into your daily routine.

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Updated on December 28, 2022
8 sources cited
Updated on December 28, 2022
  1. Tortolero, Susan R., et al. “Daily Violent Video Game Playing and Depression in Preadolescent Youth.” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 2014.
  2. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “WatchingTV/Screen Time and Children.” aacap.org, 2020.
  3. Przybylski, Andrew K., et al. “Internet Gaming Disorder: Investigating the Clinical Relevance of a New Phenomenon.” American Journal of Psychiatry, 2017.
  4. Grinspoon, Peter. “The Health Effects of Too Much Gaming.” Harvard Health Blog, Harvard Health Publishing, 2020.
  5. Santos, Isis Kelly Dos, et al. “Active Video Games for Improving Mental Health and Physical Fitness-an Alternative for Children and Adolescents during Social Isolation: An Overview.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2021.
  6. National Institutes of Health “Video Gaming May Be Associated with Better Cognitive Performance in Children.” nih.gov, 2022. 
  7. Christensen, Jill. “Children and Too Much Screen Time.” Mayo Clinic Health System, 2021. 
  8. Roy, Valerie. “How Much Screen Time Is Too Much for Kids? - FTC.” FTC-I, 2022.

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