Video Games and Mental Health: How Gaming Affects Your Mental Health
Video games have been around for more than 30 years. But only in the past 15 years have people started to pay attention to the correlation between video games and mental health.
Excessive gaming is connected to mental health problems such as:
- Social anxiety
- Lack of motivation
- Poor emotional regulation
- Interpersonal conflict
- Suicidal thoughts
On the other hand, some studies show that video games can improve your mental health if you play in moderation – the keyword here is gaming in moderation.
This article analyzes the effects of video games on your mental health and offers suggestions on where you can get help if gaming is impacting your health.
Effects of Video Games on Your Mental Health
When we talk about video games and mental health, you must know that we primarily consider the mental health effects of excessive gaming.
In moderation, playing video games may not have strong negative effects on mental health.
A study by Oxford University shows that gaming in moderation and a controlled environment may improve one’s mental well-being.
Some people might find the results of this study surprising, especially considering that many prior studies have linked gaming with negative effects on mental health.
However, one key thing to note here is an isolated study where gamers played the prosocial game Animal Crossing for four hours a day. The truth is that the gaming habits of most addicted gamers are much different. They play other, more addictive games that are also more toxic, and many gamers play for more than four hours a day.
The more you play, the more you may neglect other aspects of your life. And this also means that the more your mental well-being is going to suffer. Furthermore, the negative effects of excessive video gaming on mental health are supported by hundreds of anecdotal stories from our members who have suffered from gaming addiction.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the most common effects of gaming on mental health.
Video Games and Depression
Depression is one of the most common comorbidities that gamers have, according to Gonzalez-Bueso et al. from 2018.
This study found up to 89% of problem gamers are also diagnosed with depression in addition to video game addiction.
One of the main questions we have regarding video games and depression is: does gaming cause depression, or are video games the coping mechanism for depression, exacerbating the original mental health problem?
Many gamers we work with develop depression because of their gaming habits. As they start playing video games more and more, they begin to neglect other aspects of their lives. For example, they don’t have as many social relationships and ignore healthy habits such as exercise and diet.
All of that can make you depressed or worsen existing depression.
We also have many cases where gamers use video games to alleviate their symptoms of depression. They turn to gaming as an escape and way to cope with their depression, but in the end, the gaming starts to worsen their depression, not fix it.
Most studies that we have so far show us that excessive gaming can lead to depression and a clear link between the two.
If you want to learn more about video games and depression, read our article about this topic.
Gaming and Social Anxiety
Does gaming cause social anxiety?
Social anxiety is another common comorbidity to video game addiction, so video games might be responsible for your social anxiety.
If you think about it, it makes sense – the more you play video games, the more you lose contact with your real-life friends, which can, in turn, lead to experiencing more social anxiety.
But the same can be said about social anxiety as can be told about depression. Many people turn to video games because they are socially anxious and struggle with physical world friendships. Games offer them an escape from real life; plus, they can socialize with people online with little to no risk. And when they do that, they start neglecting real-life relationships, worsening their existing social anxiety.
And that’s not a good place to be.
If you rely on video games and online platforms for socializing, you lose out on the many benefits of having friends in real life. You don’t get to have adventures that you might have in your life, you don’t meet new people, and even if you do, the relationships online may not be as genuine as they are in real life.
Does Gaming Cause Anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of unease and fear that many people get because of their inability to predict what will happen in the future.
Everyone gets anxious from time to time. For many people, this happens because of school exams, job interviews, or simply before attending an important event. As such, gaming does not cause anxiety.
It can, however, worsen it in some cases.
This can happen if you turn to video games as a form of escapism. Video games can allow you to escape from the real world to forget about the problems you have in real life.
This can be a great thing if you come home from a long day at work or in school. Video games can allow you to jump into another world where you forget about everything that’s bothering you.
But if this happens too often and if you start neglecting those problems in real life because video games offer you an easier, more comfortable escape, then it can become a problem. Your anxiety will eventually become even worse knowing that you haven’t managed to address those nagging issues you might have in your life.
Eventually, life is going to catch up with you. And when that happens, your problems are going to start accumulating to the point where you can’t manage them successfully any longer, which will result in even more anxiety.
So gaming itself may not cause anxiety, but if you turn to play video games to escape your problems, it can significantly worsen your existing anxiety.
Read more about this in our article that talks about gaming and anxiety.
Lack of Motivation
Playing video games in excess is also responsible for lack of motivation.
We hear from many parents concerned about their child and their lack of motivation to do other things than play video games all day and wonder if gaming is making people lazy.
This happens because video games address many of the needs that you would satisfy with other activities such as hobbies. For example, video games allow you to progress and level up your skills, which is one of the core needs of human existence.
Furthermore, video games also allow you to stay social, get creative, and get immersed as they act as this massive time sink.
When you play video games too much, you don’t have the motivation to do other things because video games address all of the needs that other activities usually do.
A good solution for this is to try as many hobbies as possible to replace your gaming habit. You could also try a 90-day detox, which might help you refocus your priorities and do healthy activities that will address the same needs as gaming does for you.
Gaming Causes Poor Emotional Regulation
One of the biggest negative effects of video games can lead you to struggle with regulating your emotions properly.
Studies show that people diagnosed with Internet gaming disorder are more likely to be aggressive, depressed, and anxious. The main mechanism that leads to those comorbidities is their inability to regulate and control their emotions, such as anger, sadness, fear, or other emotions.
That’s because video games are often seen as a way of escaping your emotions. As a result, many gamers, especially young gamers and teenagers, play video games because they may have underlying negative emotions.
However, video games don’t solve their problem and temporarily numb those negative emotions. On the contrary, playing video games excessively will make those emotions even more intense, especially if you play video games every day for several hours.
When you have good control over your emotions, you can control your actions better by controlling your emotional state. Excessive game time can cause you to develop skill deficits, such as regulating your emotions.
Video games and gaming addiction are often responsible for interpersonal conflict.
This comprehensive study on the effects of video games and interpersonal relationships shows that video games can harm relationships that gamers have with other people – including family members such as siblings, parents, and other people.
The study also confirms that playing violent video games can have a more pronounced negative effect on gamers’ interpersonal relationships with other people. On the other hand, non-violent games can improve the quality of interpersonal relationships compared to violent games.
In addition, many online games that gamers play nowadays, such as League of Legends , Rocket League, Fortnite, Roblox, Genshin Impact, or Grand Theft Auto, have toxic online communities. The toxicity of these communities can translate to worse relationships with other people. All the anger and frustration gather inside like a hurricane that is released on other people.
So although games can provide social opportunities, sometimes those social opportunities can lead to worse relationships with other people, which can negatively affect other aspects of your mental health, too.
Gaming and Suicidal Thoughts
When video gaming addiction gets out of hand, some individuals may begin having suicidal thoughts.
Many addicted gamers have shared their experience with suicidal thoughts, including Cam Adair, the founder of Game Quitters, who started experiencing these thoughts due to excessive gaming.
These thoughts are common with other people who share their stories on Game Quitters, such as, for example, Jose, who was playing video games from the age of just 8.
The problem with video games and addiction to games is that they can quickly spiral out of control. You start to lose focus and track of other activities in your life and before you know it, playing video games becomes the only thing and your only priority in life.
If you or another family member or friend experiences suicidal thoughts, contact the Suicide prevention line immediately at 1-800-273-8255.
If you experience suicidal thoughts, then your gaming addiction has already spread through other areas of your life so much that it’s heavily impacting the quality of your life. At this point, treatment is the most viable option.
Does Gaming Have Positive Effects on Mental Health?
Recent studies suggest that playing non-violent video games (in this case, Animal Crossing) can positively affect your mental health.
You may become happier, and you have better relationships with other people as a result.
However, one of the main problems with video games is that many games are violent. Many of them also have toxic communities online, so they can’t have as many positive effects.
In addition, many gamers play games excessively, so they start to experience mostly the negative effects, and they don’t get to see the positive impact that video games can cause.
If you want to experience positive effects from video games, try playing in moderation. You can also try a 90-day detox to change your relationship with video games for good.
If you experience any of the above-mentioned negative effects of video games on mental health, then we encourage you to speak with a therapist near you. This will be the most effective strategy for your problems since you need someone to support you and give you professional tips for coping with your mental health challenges.
In addition, we have designed an in-depth course for gamers called Respawn, where you will learn how to alleviate the negative effects of gaming on mental health and solve your problems with practical strategies.
We also have other resources that you can try, such as:
- Reclaim program for families of addicted gamers
- Coaching programs
- Community forum
- Hundreds of articles and other resources
- INTENTA’s training for mental health professionals