Video Games vs. Mental Illness: The Hidden Fight


Hello, Shawn here again to share another part of my life with everyone. If you don’t know, I have a traumatic brain injury which I detailed in an eariler post. This time, I am here to tell you how something as simple as video games keep saving my life and making it better. I know it sounds silly but it’s true, and maybe some of you can relate.

About five months ago, I tried to commit suicide. I had a knife to my wrist and was in tears. If it wasn’t for my little girl, I probably wouldn’t be here today. Now, I don’t tell this story to elicit pity, it’s just to give perspective for where I was versus where I am right now.

I have been in programs to help, and I am doing great right now. So where do video games come in? I’ll tell you in a bit, but first let me tell you a little bit about how mental illness affects our society. It might shock you.

One in five adults are affected by Mental Health issues. Look around, somebody you know is fighting with this illness. The average age of gamers is 30. Hopefully you see where I am headed with this. Look at any of your friends lists, be it PSN, Steam, or Xbox Live. Someone you are acquainted with is suffering from mental illness. The real question is, do games help or hurt? There are current studies showing video games are helping Veterans suffering from PTSD, which is plaguing our returning service members.

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I suffer from recurring major depression and anxiety disorder, both of which were caused by my injury. I use video games in my life to get through the tough spots, as well as the good. Video games have also brought a good amount of things into my life. My wife is now a gamer, and although we play on different systems, we hang out and play together.

I also became a video game writer and a fledgling reviewer which, for me, is a tremendous accomplishment. But my illness has also interrupted these awesome parts of my life. Since my time here at PS Nation, I have been hospitalized twice for mental illness, and have gone through a three week rigorous outpatient program. The main reason I point this out is to show that no matter how bad things got I never quit, and this is what I wanted to share.


Now time to get to the fun stuff. How exactly do video games help with mental illness? Well, in a lot of ways really. Games are a good way to be distracted from your usual everyday issues. I particularity play games when I am having trouble with comprehension and, for lack of a better description, “head lag”.

Games help me focus and stay sharp. Games also help me when I am depressed or anxious, as they take my focus away from the problems at hand or help settle me down. I found Destiny to help with this for several reasons. The gameplay is top notch and very well dialed in. The story is one of those where if you buy into it, which I did, you feel like a hero trying to save humanity.

I know it sounds kind of silly when I say it out loud, but it’s true. Another game I have played to help combat this is LEGO Dimensions or, in my case, “LEGO Crack”. There is so much to do in this game, with so much variety that it almost puts me into a peaceful trance. Distraction at its best.

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I have also used the other LEGO games to help rehab my Brain Injury, but they also have become addicting. As crazy as it sounds, I get obsessed with these games which is not always a good thing. But the best aspect of these type of games is the simple puzzle solving, which is the staple of the LEGO series. There is so much to do in these games that it can be overwhelming at times. I have to take a deep breath and take each objective one at a time.

Rock Band 4 is another one of the games I love to play to help me with my injury and mental health issues, but it takes a toll on me. With all that’s happening on screen it tires me out very quickly, which is one of my triggers for depression. Not only am I rehabbing my brain, but I am also learning to manage my triggers by only allowing myself to play for a little bit at a time.

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Depression is a terrible thing but it can be managed, although it is not easy. Luckily, what video games bring to the table can help. Be it an uplifting story, a triumph over invading aliens, or helping Sackboy create a world of wonder, games help. Games can also hinder you, but that’s for you to manage. Such seemingly small feats as getting 100% in a song on Rock Band or even getting a Trophy are accomplishments in a way that should count.

Depression has a way of affecting us all in one form or another, and we should be aware of it. The real trick is not letting it win and take control of you. I know it’s easier said than done, but it is essential.

If a loved one or someone you know is having a hard time, reach out to them and let them know you’re there. I have even done this with PSN friends from time to time. We all are one community with one thing in common, we all love video games.

If you are reading this and need help, reach out to someone, I for one will be available to help if you need it. You can reach me at [email protected] or on Twitter @smag99.

There is always hope and a way to get through the rough times, and luckily video games can help combat depression. But remember games alone aren’t enough. If you need help, please seek someone out to help you.

Written by Shawn Hiers

Shawn Hiers

Disabled gamer. Married Father of 5, and playing since the Atari days. I have a passion for all things Lego and an avid Toy Collector. I am also an huge Doctor Who Fan and can talk all things Who for hours 🙂

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