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Can Video Games Improve Mental Health?

Image courtesy of Prostock-studio / Alamy Stock Photo IMG_2022-6-10-153927.jpg
DeepWell Digital Therapeutics is addressing anxiety and depression with its video game offerings.

The COVID-19 pandemic wrought a heavy toll on mental health for many as they were isolated from social contacts and support structures, anxieties around the disease and economics increased, and access to mental health services were reduced. The latter ‒ lack of reasonable or equitable access to mental health services ‒ prompted the growth of newcomer, DeepWell Digital Therapeutics. The video game developer and publisher focus on play that integrates strategies for mental health management.

As rates of anxiety and depression, which were already thought to be on the rise in the US, continued to increase, DeepWell DTx team members sought to address this trend, according to co-founder, Ryan Douglas. “Many of the participants in DeepWell have been aware of the rising mental health emergency and the very specific, alarming spikes in depression and anxiety rates over the last 5 years. Covid added another major layer of complexity to this issue and played a huge role in the company’s decision to focus its initial efforts on mental health.”

Mike Wilson is the company’s additional co-founder.

Now You're Playing With Power

Video games were the perfect entry point to help patients with mental health concerns as they are based in a play mindset. “Video games are highly accessible, and the neurologically stimulating powers of play provide engagement and increased capability for delivery of therapeutics,” said Douglas. “Video games are an amazing therapeutic delivery tool that address access to care by increasing patient engagement and adherence issues, accelerating treatment outcomes, and reducing barriers to delivering healthcare (costs and availability of providers). For the price of a video game and their own time, people can begin to address and treat their mental health issues.”

Though details on game development remain under wraps, Douglas shared the company sticks closely to purpose of the game throughout its creation. “We follow a very specific development strategy of ‘Good Games First.’ Our scientists, doctors, regulatory, quality, and operational people, and systems work in service of the game developers, helping to adapt the therapeutic elements of the game to create a scenario where thematic elements are supported by game mechanics that have a strong overlap with the treatment mechanism. We work to make it very difficult for the patient to say, ‘Ah, this is the part of the game that is treating my condition.’”

In fact, the goal of the game is to not let on to the player that they are receiving any therapy at all. They are simply meant to enjoy playing the game. “The therapeutic potential of games is tied to play and engagement; without the fun, there is no therapy. Our approach is to lean heavily on the power of play and the naturally engaging aspects of immersive games. The more the patient feels that they are playing a regular game and distracted by the game play, the higher the therapeutic potential.”

New Launches for Mental Health

The inaugural 2023 launches will focus on anxiety, stress, and depression. While the company is focused at this time on developing mental health-based games, the team sees the technology as applicable to many health conditions, said Douglas. “DeepWell is currently focused on mental health treatments, but we see potential for a wide range of adjunctive therapies from physical interventions that drive us to do something good for us, to mind/body work that can help us think differently and respond more effectively to therapies and pharmaceuticals,” he said.

Accessibility is also key for DeepWell DTx, which will make its games available on popular platforms. The games also do not require prescriptions. “DeepWell is focused on delivering DTx therapies on existing platforms without additional hardware requirements,” said Douglas. Our first game will be a VR experience, playable on the Oculus Quest. Other developments are focused on mobile, PC and game console systems.”

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