Since Pokémon Go started dominating our lives last week, it’s had some surprising impacts. People are feeling strange sensations in their legs as they actually walk around, and players are discovering, err, interesting new things around their cities.
But it turns out there might also be unexpected benefits for people suffering from mental health conditions.
As psychologist John M. Grohol reports on PsychCentral, users are taking to social media to report an unexpected improvement in their depression and anxiety as a result of playing the game.
With more people now using the app than Tinder – and Twitter soon to be overtaken – it appears that Pokémon Go is motivating users to get up and out of the house – something that’s often a struggle for people suffering from depression or anxiety.
Here are just a few of the hundreds of Tweets out there raving about the game:
#PokemonGo has already been a better treatment for my depression than anything my doctor prescribed or therapist recommended
— Jesseanne Pope (@gleefullyhello) July 11, 2016
#PokemonGO has changed me so much for the better in only a week. Dealing with BPD, depression& anxiety it has helped me get out of the house
— Lara (@38Violetqueen) July 11, 2016
Real talk – as someone with anxiety/depression, the fact that I've spent most of this weekend outside with friends is unreal. #PokemonGo
— HiRez David (@uglycatlady) July 10, 2016
With the app only out for a week, scientists haven’t been able to study this link just yet, so we can’t say for sure what effects the app is having.
But Grohol thinks that the benefit comes from encouraging people to get moving around – something that study after study has shown is beneficial for mental health.
Except the problem is that research has also shown that it’s incredibly challenging to motivate people with mental health conditions to exercise.
“For a person suffering from depression or another mood disorder, the idea of exercise can be nearly impossible to contemplate, much less do,” writes Grohol. “For someone suffering from social anxiety, the idea of going outside and possibly bumping into others that may want to talk to you is daunting.”
But the app encourages people to get out and explore their neighbourhood to find and capture Pokémon, something that rewards them for leaving the house without forcing social interaction.
“I think this is a wonderful demonstration of the unintentional but beneficial consequences of gaming and producing a game that encourages healthy exercise,” says Grohol over on PsychCentral.
Took another 4 mile walk and talked to 4 people along the way. #PokémonGo may solve obesity and social anxiety in one app.
— Allan (@AllanTries) July 10, 2016
#PokemonGO is gunna cure my social anxiety. Everyone has been so nice. People are not as scary as originally perceived.
— Captain Naomi (@CptNaomi) July 11, 2016
“Hundreds of app developers have tried to develop mood-altering apps by encouraging people to track their mood or with encouraging affirmations. But these apps rarely catch on, and few people continue using them past the first week,” adds Grohol.
“The developers behind Pokemon Go didn’t mean to create a mental health gaming app. But they’ve done so, and the effects seem to be largely positive.”
The fact that some of the most interesting Pokémon are found near trees or water could also be helping, with recent studies showing that just 30 minutes of exposure to nature a week can benefit people’s mental health – something that the Japanese call “nature bathing”.
Of course, Pokémon Go hasn’t been all positive.
Last week, a teenager in Wyoming found a dead body while trying to catch a Pokémon, and armed robbers used the game to mug unsuspecting players. There’s also a malicious Android version of the app circulating.
But it seems that the benefits of playing safely and getting out of the house more often to discover Pokémon might outweigh some of those risks… as if you needed another reason to play.
#PokemonGO this is actually making me want to leave my room and interact with people finally after years of depression I love this so much
— Amy (@amyxplier) July 10, 2016
I know this sounds silly but #PokemonGo has helped me a lot with my social anxiety by encouraging me to go out more.
— •Shep (@StickySheepu) July 10, 2016
Now let’s just hope the servers get back up soon so we can all enjoy.