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Monday, 23 April 2018

Gaming & Mental Health - My Experience


I've been wanting to write a piece about gaming and mental health for a while but could never quite find the motivation to sit down and do so. Also with my mind being the busy, overcrowded place that it is most of the time I find it hard to take time out from other, more menial tasks that need doing around the house. I guess if I were to give taking time out during the day to do something for myself a ranking it would sit right at the bottom of the pile. I can't rest you see. Not until every last household job that needs doing is completed. In the back of my mind if I think that there's a cup that needs washing up or the bath needs a scrub I just can't leave it. It's probably a form of OCD or something. Even right at this moment as I'm sat outside in the glorious sunshine typing these words my mind is racing, thinking about all the other things that I ought to be doing rather than taking a bit of time out for myself. My mind is comparable to any major city in the world - always busy, never sleeping.

Like so many other people in this country, I suffer from a mental illness. It's never been given an official diagnosis but the general opinion from various medical professionals and the skeleton local mental health team is that I have moderate depression and anxiety, coupled with a low mood. It's something that I've been able to manage fairly well for the most part but in the past 6 months or so it has unfortunately got the better of me and as a result I've spent a lot of my time at home, unable to work. Which naturally has freed up a bit more of my time for gaming.

Previously I'd always thought of gaming as a leisure activity. It was something that I'd do to unwind when I had an hour or so spare of an evening or perhaps something to occupy a wet weekend. I'd never really considered it to be a past-time that could be considered beneficial to my mental health.

As you can probably imagine, being at home all day with only the cat and daytime TV for company, there are occasions where I feel a bit lonely. Frustrated even. I've never really admitted this to anybody other than close family and friends before, and medical professionals of course, but since things have got really bad in the past few months I've taken to self-harming. It's not something that I'm proud of but unfortunately it's something that is out of my control. My mind is a complicated and often scary place to be when I'm on my own and it often causes me to do things that I don't really want to do.


But gaming has been something that has really helped me out during my dark moments.

It's offered me a place to escape to when I most need it. Think about it. Playing a video game can instantly whisk you away to an alternative reality where you are a completely different person. That moment when you boot up Uncharted 4 for example. No longer are you that lonely, melancholy person who so desperately wants to slide a blade along their arm - you're Nathan Drake. An explorer, a treasure hunter, a hero. Your own issues can be set aside for a few hours now because all that matters right now is what's happening in Nate's world. Forget how you're feeling for now because you're on a quest to find Captain Avery's treasure and you need to focus on keeping both Sully and yourself alive.

Escapism isn't going to combat long term mental health problems of course but it certainly helps by offering a change of focus for an over-active mind. Because your primary focus is to succeed in the task that you've been set within the game world you're therefore not over-thinking your own ongoing issues. Which in the short term gives you a break from the often exhausting symptoms of your own long-term conditions.

That shift in focus plays a big part in helping to relieve issues associated with both depression and anxiety. Something as simple as playing a game online against other players can help combat the issue of loneliness in a way. If you're somebody who spends a lot of time at home - perhaps because you struggle to deal with other people in person - joining an online session of a game enables you to connect with real people in real time without the stress and anxiety of leaving your comfort zone. You'll also have that one immediate interest in common as well in the form of the game you're playing, which can help break down barriers when it comes to conversations.

I've been told countless numbers of times over the past 6 months or so that the key to beating my mental illness is to exercise. I'm often told to go for a walk or try doing some yoga for example - and i'm sure that both those activities would have a predominantly positive effect on my overall well-being - but I don't think gaming should be overlooked when it comes to helping alleviate increasingly common mental health issues.

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