JUL 13, 2016 1:06 PM PDT

How Pokémon Go is Helping Players Tackle Mental Illness

WRITTEN BY: Julianne Chiaet

screenshot of gameplay via Julianne ChiaetGamers are often perceived as being antisocial, lazy, and reclusive. Whether that's true or not, Pokemon Go has forced gamers everywhere to stand up, leave their homes, and meet new people.

The fiercely popular game came out on July 6 and became the most downloaded smartphone app in the U.S. within three days. While you can play through other Pokémon games without moving out of bed, this is an augmented reality location-based game. Thus, in order to catch Pokémon, you need to physically go to where they are. For instance, you’re more likely to find water-type Pokémon near an actual body of water (e.g. a lake). Plus, the concentration of Pokémon is dependent on the amount of Pokémon trainers in an area. Thus, if you want to go to an area with many Pokémon, you may be headed towards a crowd. This puts certain potential Pokémon masters in an unusual position. You can’t dominate and become a Pokémon master without physically going out to catch Pokémon, hit up Pokéstops (to get items), and fight on location at Pokémon gyms. 

Walking has been shown to reduce stress, improve confidence, and boost overall mood. It can alleviate anxiety and improve one’s mental health. Strong social connections are also a major component of good mental health. Many with depression and anxiety find it difficult to leave their houses and to speak with people. The game has unexpectedly persuaded many struggling with mental illness to take a major step forward by forcing them to explore new places and interact with people. 

Thousands of people have spoken out on Twitter regarding their personal experience with Pokémon Go and how it has acted as a stepping stone towards better mental health.

Others have taken to YouTube to share how Pokemon Go has positively affected their mental health: 
 

Yet, while this anecdotal evidence clearly shows personal growth, it’s too early to say whether Pokémon Go actually helps treat anxiety and other mental health disorders in general. While it may work for some people, it may not help the majority of players with mental illness.

Hopefully, researchers will look into the game and provide us with concrete data soon. 

Sources: Personal interaction/experience with Pokémon Go, Twitter, lindauermacs.com, Independent, Psych Central 
About the Author
Julianne (@JuliChiaet) covers health and medicine for LabRoots. Her work has been published in The Daily Beast, Scientific American, and MailOnline. While primarily a science journalist, she has also covered culture and Japanese organized crime. She is the New York Board Representative for the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA). • To read more of her writing, or to send her a message, go to Jchiaet.com
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