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Computer game could fight youth depression - research

Published: 10:29AM Tuesday April 24, 2012 Source: ONE News

A new fantasy-based computer game could be the answer in helping to treat teen depression, a leading professor in youth psychiatry says.

Sparx, a fantasy computer game, has been developed as self-help therapy for young people with symptoms of depression.

"We've taken cognitive behavioural therapy, which is one of the mainstays of treatment for depression, and put it into an interactive fantasy-based game," Sally Merry, the senior lecturer of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Auckland, told TV ONE's Breakfast this morning.

"Everything that a therapist would do, we tried to turn into something that you could play."

Initial research findings, published in the British Medical Journal, show the game to be fun and effective.

"It works as well as the treatment that young people usually get in New Zealand," Merry said.

"That's very important because 80% of kids with depression never get help."

The professor said not all youth want to see a therapist either, so the game adds to tools already in place to combat teenage depression.

In the game, the player meets a guide, who gives information about depression and helps the player monitor their mood.

The player is then teleported into a fantasy world where they have to learn how to identify and fight Gnats (gloomy, negative, automatic thoughts) and transform them into Sparx (smart, positive, active, realistic, x-factor thoughts). Each province in the game is linked to a core cognitive behavioural therapy construct.

The player has to solve problems, learn relaxation techniques, and is given a guide on how to translate the virtual experiences into the real world.

The computer game is currently in need of funding to help with distribution, and Merry hoped some of the funding put aside for e-therapy in the Government's latest youth mental health package would go towards Sparx.

"It would be lovely if we were able to use some of that to distribute Sparx," she said.