Your Mental Health Check

As many of you are aware, I am an avid video game player in my spare time, and while lately I have begun to play less due to other more important tasks requiring my time, I still use much of my spare time that’s left from that to play said games. Recently, however, my attention was drawn to an article which explains that a doctor from Iowa State University conducted some research regarding children’s use of video games and the effect that it had on their mental health, including how it could possibly lead to depression and anxiety. I’m not here to defend video games and say that there is no possible way that that could be a factor of some kind of this, however, this research seems to be extremely closed on the focus of the video games, and not about much of the rest of their life.

An example of kids playing a seemingly violent video game.

Before I go on, let me summarize the research that Dr. Douglas Gentile conducted, and note that the results of this study have let to be released yet, however it is well-known that Dr. Douglas has a history of being anti-video games. Gentile surveyed 3,034 Singapore school children about their gaming habits to try and find out if they were, according to his research, “pathological gamers”. Basically, he asked each child a series of ten questions, ranging from if they’ve skipped homework to play games to are the other areas of their lives suffering as a result of playing too many video games. If the child gave at least five “yes” responses, they were considered to be a pathological gamer. Defending his research, he was quoted saying, “A lot of people assume if you talk about pathological gaming, you’re talking about something’s wrong with games. And that’s not at all what’s going on here… I don’t think it’s about the game; I think it’s about the player.”

Let’s take a step back now and think about this. While the questions asked seem sound in theory, they fail to find out anything else about the children’s lives. Typically when a child has a bad habit or addiction, such as with video games, one would ask where the parents are in this case. When a child is young, especially when they are in school still, this means that they are living from home, and should be following the rules of their parents. When the parents aren’t a factor in the child’s life, this is where the child has free reign to become addicted to things that they should not, and neglect things that they are more or less obligated to do. In most cases, it is the parents’ job to moderate the amount of video games that a child should play compared to the time that they should be spending doing homework. Let’s face it, there are a lot of children out there who would rather choose to play video games than to do homework, because the video games give the child a more immediate reward for it’s “work”.

Gentile goes on to talk about the relations that video game addiction has in compared to substance addiction, “When you play the games, your biochemistry does change, and it changes in many of the same ways that it does if you take cocaine. Your brain does release dopamine. That adrenaline rush you feel from playing violent games is really adrenaline. That’s epinephrine coursing through your veins. You also get other stress hormones—glucocorticoids and catecholamines like cortisol and testosterone. And over time, you get desensitized. You get a tolerance for them, and so you need more new games to get that excitement back again. And that looks an awful lot like a substance addiction.”

A vicious chainsaw kill in Gears of War.

Now, let’s step back another second and think about what this has to do with depression or anxiety, which this study supposedly has linked video game addiction to. Based on the facts of what we know of this study, and of the results of a similar study that happened in 2009 which was conducted by the same doctor; depression, anxiety and social phobias rose in gamers who became addicted to video games, and fell in those who didn’t. But how does a video game alone cause this, and what is the catalyst that leads to this? That being said, what if the child were depressed or shy to begin with, and then turned to video games as a way to more or less escape that of which they didn’t want to be a part of anymore? In those cases, what is this study proving, other than the fact that people who become a little more mentally unstable than others seek an alternative method of keeping themselves entertained? In these cases, the addiction to video games began as a result of some other reason, whether it be a life event, the parents or something else.

Looking at the other side of things, what about other addictions, or supposed addictions that exist? Technically, according to medical science, gambling addictions are the only medically recognized behavioral addiction, even though some studies have attempted to prove that people can become addicted to things such as sex or shopping as well. I can tell you from personal experience that whenever I used to become depressed, I turned to video games myself, and typically was anti-social from there, however I’ve never decided to go in and get my mental stability medically checked out. On my own though, I decided that I wanted a change in my life, and began to expand my horizons outwards in order to try and get more friends, and be more of an active part of society. Unfortunately, this was a gateway to a new “addiction” as some may call it, as when I become depressed now, I attempt to turn to alcohol instead, being of age. This, however, was of my own doing, and the effects of my parents’ upbringing have no weight on this as they have no control over what I choose to do with my life at this age.

Depression can affect anyone given the right circumstances.

The question that gets posed from all of this in the end is, what truly links our human behavioral activities to certain things? In the cases of alcohol and gambling, at least if one is losing, there are some serious side effects that could hurt the way of living of said person. With video games, though, it seems to be more of a personal choice, which can have an effect on a person’s social aspect, but not necessarily ruin their life. An argument could be posed in which we could say that people with a video game addiction spend an unusually large amount of money buying more and more games and systems, and in that case, yes, it could affect their life as much as a gambling addiction could, however what method do we have to stop someone from doing such a thing? If they are a child, it is easy enough to stop them because, as their parent, it is your responsibility to raise your child to be a functioning member of society, but as an adult, what can we truly do to change these events?

While this article may have seemed to turn upon itself, the question that I pose to you is this: no matter how much research is done, how can we prove for certain when a specific activity is causing a person to become mentally unstable? What method would one have to use to find out every aspect of a person’s life, to dive deep into their being, to find out exactly what has them in the depressed state that they may be in?

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