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Video Games And Young Adult Depression

by David Hampton ❘  

Game Over: Winning The Gaming War Over Young Adult Depression

A study in 2019 published in the National Library of Medicine found that gaming addiction positively correlated with depression, loneliness, and social anxiety especially in the young adult population. They also reported that young adults addicted to video games showed increased depression and anxiety and felt more socially isolated. Males were shown to be more negatively affected than females and were also more prone to isolate and withdraw.

Some say this phenomenon as a bit of the “chicken and egg” scenario. In other words, do depressed young adults gravitate to isolating behaviors like gaming, or do otherwise well-adjusted young adults get so immersed in the gaming culture that it eventually pulls them out of circulation with their friends and family? The answer is likely both.

While many depressed individuals look for any number of ways to get a dopamine hit for their thirsty, isolated minds, a growing number of young adults are finding that the more screen time they engage in, the less likely they are to develop relationships and can begin to interpret their virtual screen worlds as their social networks. The invention of characters to hide behind, virtual worlds to explore, and the lack of any external realities to distract us makes an inviting place to immerse oneself, especially if school, relationships, and life in general becomes too overwhelming.

Young Adults Seeking Help For Video Game Use

In the last three months I have had several young adult males come to me with nearly the exact same presenting circumstances. Friends, classmates, Greek life, and anything else many college students find stimulating were simply unwelcome distractions for these young men. Statistics show that we are in a time of unprecedented levels of depression and anxiety. While COVID-19 and the culture wars can take their share of the blame, much of our growing emotional exhaustion is trying to find connection and emotional satisfaction in areas that we are not designed to stay in long-term.

Whether it is the comparative thinking brought on by staying saturated in social media, or the dopamine saturation of a day of gaming alone the result is a residual anxiety once the dopamine rush subsides, and we are left with our empty relationship tank leaving us more depressed and anxious than we were before we started. Ultimately, the behaviors we are engaging in to mask the depression and anxiety are in fact exacerbating it.

Recovery Plan For Video Game Addiction

Below is a synopsis of a general recovery care plan including abstaining from gaming/technology devices for a 30-day period. This plan (along with neurofeedback and regular therapy sessions) has been very helpful in breaking the cycle of the unwanted isolation and thereby diminishing the presenting depression and anxiety. We would stress that this plan is NOT a punitive exercise whatsoever. This is to be thought of as a cleanse or a “detox” so that the devices can be introduced again later. This 30-day period is meant to give undistracted opportunity to develop a “self” apart from video games and/or character role playing and allow the brain to reset.

Our three main objectives in the first 30-day period are establishing habits around Structure, Activity, and Connection.

Structure

A consistent bedtime and wake up time daily. Having a flexible but working daily routine which includes intentionally setting three small goals you would like to accomplish each day (one thing from each category of structure, activity, or connection). A healthy diet of regular mealtimes is important. Setting a daily timeline to accomplish small tasks is also recommended.

Activity

Some type of daily exercise, even simply walking for 20-30 minutes outdoors, experiencing something that requires movement for at least a half hour is a great start. Engage in something enjoyable that doesn’t require technology, i.e., boardgames with family, creative artistic endeavors, music, something that brings joy and stimulates the prefrontal cortex. The endorphins that the brain manufactures during exercise is nature’s antidepressant.

Connection

This can begin with being more intentional about socializing with work or school friends during the day, meeting people for coffee or lunch, recovery group support meetings, some type of interest group that does not involve gaming or a character. The goal in connection is to show up as yourself and become comfortable with your true self in social and relational situations.

At an agreed upon time, be willing to turn in your computer power cord, Xbox, smart phone, laptop, and any other device other than a TV to parents or a supportive friend or partner who has agreed to hold you accountable.

At that time your smart phone can be replaced by a “disposable” flip phone which will have your current phone number assigned to it. At the end of the agreed hiatus the temporary flip phone will be exchanged, and your smart phone will be returned to you.

How To Offer Support

Encouragement from loved ones and friends is imperative as well. If you are trying to encourage someone who is working to beat this dependency to technology, consider writing them an uplifting note at the beginning of this endeavor: “We know this is going to be difficult, stressful, and emotional for you. We know we are disrupting a relationship you have with technology and other virtual friends and that it is not an easy thing to step away from, even for a short season. Your family wants to be engaged in your process as well as engage you!”

We must understand that the willingness to change is the first step but giving up a behavior can exacerbate anxiety and will often be a very emotionally unsteady time at first. Abandoning the technology will make space for us to explore what is truly lacking in our lives and how to reclaim it. Learning to ask for help and realizing that the absence of the old behavior is making space for self-love. Self-acceptance is a pivotal part of the therapeutic process of coming back to ourselves.

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