Since Pokémon Go released in mid-2016, the game has exploded in popularity with reportedly more than 750 million downloads and an estimated user base of 30 to 45 million worldwide. Some may have expected the popularity based on the success of previous Pokémon games, but what was unexpected was the mental health benefits. People playing Pokémon Go have reported spending increased time with friends, making new friends, and increasing their physical activity levels.

Michael Van Ameringen, MD of McMaster noticed difficult to treat patients with severe social anxiety disorder and a lot of depression started to go out of their homes when they began playing Pokémon Go. “This led me to wondering if this game had the ability to be used as a mental health treatment, even though it wasn’t intended to do this," Van Ameringen said.

Others in the field agree. Kara Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, noted in 2016: "I see Pokémon Go being useful with my socially anxious and agoraphobic patients in two ways. It really gives them a set of tools and reasons to meet people. It is a naturally structured experiment where it draws people in to connect and is partially reinforcing, which is the best mechanism for rewarding behavior."

While long-term study is still needed, initial studies, like the one that Van Ameringen and colleagues presented at the 2018 American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting in New York City, show positive improvements. Combining video games and mental health therapy will be an exciting area of study in the coming years.

Visit MD Magazine’s site to learn more about Van Ameringen’s study.