Mental Health Fix: Is ‘Pokemon GO’ Just What The Doctor Ordered For Anxiety, Phobia Sufferers?

The new smartphone app, Pokémon GO, is the No. 1 gaming application — period, point blank! Surprisingly, according to Buzzfeed, some people with anxiety and phobic disorders, the novel game may just be what the doctor ordered for mental health issues.

Children and adults (grandparents, too) have latched onto the craze after Niantic, Inc. released the app in the United States on Android and iPhone. The technology (augmented reality) is amazing, for sure. It uses your phone’s GPS and allows you to interact with your environment by integrating Pokémon characters into your camera.

For gamers, especially those familiar with the popular franchise, it’s the best thing since Angry Birds. The app has several requirements: the user must roam around outside and go on an expedition of sorts to capture as many Pokémon as possible. Playing in teams is an added benefit.

And, according to users suffering from anxiety and depression, the new app offers a non-conventional (and unapproved) form of treatment. For one, the game compels users to get outside and explore their environments.

Sophia, 31, spoke with BF about the impact of the recent police-involved shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota, and the ambush in Dallas, Texas.

“I started playing Pokémon Go because I needed help to distract myself. I’m very introverted. It’s mostly due to my facial deformity. I very rarely strike up a conversation with someone out of fear that they might not want to talk to me.

“But with Pokémon Go I feel okay. I can actually talk to people and not be afraid of rejection. And having the chance to talk to someone is exactly what I need right now.

“I’ve left the house a lot more. And I do have trouble with it because I live in a small rural town … Plus I never knew that so many nerdy people live in my small town! This is so amazing.”

Other players expressed how the game gave them a good reason to leave the home and engage with others. Many claim the Pokémon game gave them confidence and worked where medication and other interventions failed.

Yearly, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) compiles statistics on a number of disorders in the United States. Some of the facts are quite alarming, which underscores the need for improved funding and treatments: About 18.5 percent (nearly 44 million) adults in America suffer from some form of mental health condition, 1 in 5 (or 21.2 percent) teens 13-18 suffer from severe mental disorders, and nearly 14 percent of children 8-15-years-old have some psychosomatic (PTSD) or mental disorder.

“Mood disorders, including major depression, dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder, are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults aged.” Even with effective treatments available, it could take years or even decades before a person seeks help and receives their first intervention.

Consequently, the costs are even higher as the condition is diagnosed as chronic because treatment is delayed. In fact, Americans lost nearly $200 billion in earnings last year as a result of their mental health illnesses.

Unfortunately, there’s a dark side of the popular Pokémon game. Police say robbers are taking advantage of players who go on a scavenger hunt. Police in St. Louis say three teens used the app to lure others to a parking lot where they were robbed at gunpoint. Investigators say the trio is implicated in at least three other robberies using the same methods of deception.

Another thing to be cautious about is the addictive nature of Pokémon GO. Because the game requires users to roam around and “catch ’em all,” players are often fixated on the mobile phone’s screen. And like texting while walking, playing the game can be just as dangerous. As a precaution, the makers of the game issue a warning at the start for users to “beware” of their surroundings and play safely.

While healthcare practitioners have not approved the app as a “new drug” for mental health, some see improvements in their moods by simply playing a game.

[Photo via Shutterstock]