Gamers and Depression
"A lot of highly-intelligent people are prone to depressions, and gamers seem particularly so. Someone recently theorized that this is one reason why games like World of Warcraft are so popular and so incredibly addictive for our people. They provide a form of social interaction while constantly giving the player a feeling of accomplishment, satisfying all sorts of needs in a typical depressive..." from Being Ted Knutson
Ted Knutson is a smart man. He touched on an issue that is sadly very prevalent in our gaming culture. Depression is a fact of life for many players, and quite a few don't even know they have it. Everyone from the top pros down to the most casual can be afflicted with this disease. It's an unfortunate truth that people who have a propensity for this kind of recreation and/or lifestyle seem to also have an extra susceptibility to this illness. The hope is to raise awareness of the symptoms of the disease, and the strategies for beating it.
Yes illness. Disease. Depression is definitely these things, not imaginary or laziness as some believe. Depression is an ailment of the mind. Some ignorant people, generally depressed folk themselves, have said depression is simply a matter of willpower. Some believe it to be an excuse to hang around the house all day, playing hooky and having fun. To these people, I suggest asking someone having a depressive episode if they're enjoying themselves. The answer might surprise you.
Actually, the major characteristic of depression is not enjoying life, of not deriving pleasure from what should give it. When some people think of depression, they think of sadness or grief. This generally isn't so. Grief, say from a loved one dying, is a logical response to tragedy. Furthermore, the feelings of sadness fade over time. Depression is recurring, and has nothing to do with logic.
I've heard it described that depression is like living black and white in a color world, and I think that's a pretty good description. Things are stark and absolute. Life is less enjoyable, interesting, and especially pleasing. Depression does not have to be negative feelings - a lot of the time, it's feeling nothing at all. Things like sex, family, even play go from satisfying and pleasurable to a chore, or a burden. The sufferer knows they're supposed to enjoy the things they used to, and they're ashamed they don't. Shame is not good for one's mood, which certainly doesn't help.
Remember Ferris Beuhler's Day Off? Ferris skipped school and had a blast. His buddy Cam did exactly the same stuff and couldn't enjoy it one iota. It was pretty heavy handed in the movie, but Cameron was depressed and his lack of being able to enjoy the things others did was a big symptom. Have you had periods of days or weeks where nothing was fun anymore? You can't make sense of it because it's not rational; it's a disease!
Do you blame the diabetic for a faulty pancreas? God, I hope not. Like the diabetic, part of your body does not function right, which in this case is your brain. Also like the diabetic, your quality of life does not have to suffer if you're diligent about due care.
This is the part where I wish I could explain the exact origins of depression, and how knowing its causes and effects on the brain has given modern medicine enough for a cure. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened yet. No one yet fully understands where depression comes from. There is almost certainly a genetic component to susceptibility. Sometimes life events can cause episodes, although the exact same event can have far different effects on different people. Hormones play an active role; a body going through puberty or after a woman gives birth can be rife with emotional issues. Generally speaking, it's a combination of many factors, which is why the root origin is so hard to pin down. Luckily, regardless of the causes of depression, there are actions anyone can do to help themselves. These are actions to take when you know you are feeling down. Only you knows what form your depression takes, so you're the one who must be vigilant about your care. It's tough, very tough, but it gets easier with practice.
Talk to someone you know and trust:
If there's one thing to take from this article, it's that depression is a real disease, not made up and not a character flaw. As such, there should be no shame in admitting you're going through a rough time. Tell someone you've known for years, whether it be a special relative or close friend, a clergy, whomever. There is no way the person should judge you. Instead, they'll be there for you when you're feeling down at that moment, and in any future episodes. And if they can't be available, odds are they'll let you know.
Telling someone how you're feeling is so beneficial for the path of recovery. Depression is a ridiculously internal disease. It's insidious because there are no obvious physical signs (like gambling addiction). What you can do is to make it external by talking to the people you care about. The support system is critical.
Talk to someone you don't know and trust:
Therapy can be hugely important to a great many people. Having a safe space, where you can get unbiased feedback from someone not in your day to day life is huge. A qualified therapist can also answer questions beyond the scope of this article, on topics like medication or CBT.
That said, it's important to find a therapist that's a good fit. Counselors are just people, who have their own style of doing things. If you're with someone and you're not feeling it, you have every right in the world to find someone new to talk to. This is always about what you need.
I'm deeply unqualified to talk about prescriptions and drug therapy. In that vein, there's only one study I can share. The study found that people who didn't believe in the effectiveness of anti-depressants had far less to none of the positive effects of the drugs, and those that were believers had far greater benefit. So take that as you want, but for serious inquiries, speak with a psychiatrist or primary care physician.
As mentioned, depression is an internal condition. You need to go against your impulses of staying inside, playing games (see below), or whatever else. When you recognize that you're having a depressive episode, do whatever you have to change your surroundings. Taking a walk (and exercise in general) is excellent. Go to a bookstore or coffee shop and surround yourself with active, social people. Everyone craves human interaction, but the depressed person literally needs it.
If you're stuck in your pajamas all day, the mere act of getting dressed can be therapeutic. You can start an art project, write in a journal, walk the dog; anything with some purpose. The afflicted have their thought patterns stuck in this void of no feeling and low interest. Conscious action is needed to break the cycle to get your life and moods back on track.
Let's say a man notices he's having trouble sleeping and losing appetite. Previous projects just seem like not worth the trouble. The kids want to play with him, but he just doesn't have the energy, even though the man usually loves to play with his children. This time though, he just wants to stay in bed and sleep all day.
Ideally, this man will recognize he's having a depressive episode and understand his instincts are not healthy. He, through some effort, showers and gets dressed. He then tells his wife, whom he sincerely trusts, that's he having a tough emotional time at the moment and he'd appreciate the support. Wife understands and decides on an impromptu grocery shopping trip, which the man agrees to.
At the grocery store the man decides to get a new cereal for the family. As he's mulling over the choices, he notices he's feeling a lot better. Later, putting away the groceries, he notices he's feeling better still. At the end of the day he plays with his kids, enjoys it, and sleeps a sound sleep.
The above scenario was fantasy, but it doesn't have to be. The necessary steps are recognizing the signs of depression and then taking action to deal with it.
Which brings us to the particular issue of gaming and gamers. Having talked with an awful lot of players over the years, it seems to me that there is simply a higher incidence of depression in our community. No one I've shared this view with has disagreed.
Why this is no one knows for sure, just like no knows why people get depression for sure. There are some speculations however. One is still the genetic component. People with higher intelligence seem to be more depression prone on average, as well as more likely to pair up with other smart, depressed people. So kids with smart folk are more likely to have the depression gene. Kids with smart folks are also more likely to play games.
Another is the much-discussed lack of social skills of Magic players. This would cause isolation and therefore a lack of support network, in addition to lower self-esteem. This idea has a lot of merit, although odds are it amplifies what's already there. It's certainly true that outgoing social people suffer from depression, and vice versa. Introversion and social awkwardness is not a guarantee.
Yet another possibility is just latent co-existing characteristics. That is to say, people attracted to the gaming community also have depressive tendencies. It's not cause and effect, rather it's a pattern of concurrence. Mr. Knutson believes gaming has draws for the typical depressive; this might also be true. Certainly, it keeps them here.
In the end, no one knows the whole picture. What is certain is that gamers have unique risks and unique solutions, compared to the population at large. Understanding both helps us a great deal.
From a solitary standpoint, gamers have a lot going for them. The internet is a great tool for avoiding boredom and getting a competitive thrill. Pogo.com, MSNZone.com, Magic Online, Party Poker, all are websites where you can sit in your comfy chair and play games to your heart's content. Unfortunately, this is a very double-edged sword.
Personally, I play worse when my mind is elsewhere. That means for someone suffering a low ebb, their skills deteriorate. That means they're more likely to lose, which doesn't feel good, so they repeat the process until they win, or just as likely, get angry and frustrated and upset. In reality, the person is looking for the positive feelings of a win because they're unhappy. But winning a game, or winning a pot, is a really artificial and ineffective way to go about this. When you base your emotional state on an event you can't control, especially when you're already in a bad place, well that's a recipe for trouble.
Instead, try to utilize the strategies from above. Get out of the house, and do something that doesn't involve the possibility of losing. If you must play a game, do it in real life with real people, and play for zero stakes. The social aspect has to be the most valuable prize.
Speaking of real people and competition, quite often a gamer's social network consists of very competitive people. This in itself is not a bad thing; often a person needs to be surrounded by winning-conscious people to improve. But when winning is not as important as just feeling good about life, these competitive people can make things worse. It's very possible that this group will see your emotional state as a vulnerability, rather than an opportunity to help a friend. If that happens, then you might be rife for exploitation, in the sense of doing something you'll regret. So much drug use and crime is done by a person looking to feel better, offered by people who had no interest in anyone but themselves. Simply put, when you're depressed you are vulnerable.
Finally, on the topic of vulnerability is the ultimate risk for a depressed individual, and the friends and family of the depressed person. It's this risk that turns depression from a disabling disease into a deadly one.
***Special note on suicide:
The most popular suicide spot in the world is the Golden Gate Bridge. Many people have jumped off this bridge with the desire to end their life, and most succeed. Occasionally, someone does survive the attempt, and when that happens, they talk to some doctors and therapists. A medical practitioner will ask what the jumper's thoughts were the moment they stepped over the edge. Invariably, it will be "I've changed my mind!"
Suicide and suicidal thoughts are no joke. Statistically speaking, you or someone you know has contemplated killing one's self.
If you are considering suicide, I'm sorry. You are in a great deal of pain. While I probably don't know you, I will still mourn you. I will miss you. You have other people in your life who will do the same.
From time to time, everyone will have a self-destructive thought. It's called the Thanatos impulse and while it's fairly normal, it's still a good indication of your mood. Recognize a thought like this when it occurs, and try not to put yourself in the situation that triggers these negative feelings.
On the other hand, if you have a plan, or have acquired an implement, or anything else that means more than just an occasional idle thought, listen carefully. You are in danger. You have a sickness that is altering your perception of the world. Be vigilant and recognize the dangers you face, or your illness could be fatal. Tell your friends, family, a counselor, anyone who will listen to how you're feeling.
Friends, your buddy is in danger. He has a disease that could be fatal. Your engagement could save a life. Talk to your friend. If you think he is suicidal, Ask Him. There is no shame in this. If your buddy says no, fantastic. Hopefully you can talk about why you had concerns. If he say yes, talk to him. Tell your friend how you honestly feel about the situation. Do not threaten, intimidate, coerce, logic, or any other method you have to force them to change their minds. It probably won't work, especially on any permanent basis. What will happen is that they'll know not to come to you with their problems in the future, which is the exact opposite of what you want. Respect their feelings, and hopefully they will respect yours.
If necessary, if you sense an immediate danger, call the police. Take the initiative and don't worry about being wrong. It's by far the lesser mistake.
The gaming community is exactly that, a community. While we may combat each other on the playing field, when one of us suffers we all do. Depression is a fact of life for many players, but that doesn't mean they have to do it alone. No one ever deserves to feel as bad as depressed people can, and it's only through ignorance they will. You as a bystander or a victim have the knowledge to help a person, a person who shares the same interests you do. Make a connection, help yourself and your community. We'll all be better for it.
For anybody looking for additional resources, I recommend Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns. It has some excellent information on personal therapies and actions, as well as an extremely comprehensive look at anti-depression medications.
Please do not hesitate to ask any questions. Best of luck to all.