How Catching Em All Can Impact Mental Health


Disclaimer: SickNotWeak does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.

Who’d have thought that a game could help rid people of mental illness symptoms? When people talk about gaming, the usual shtick is, “ruddy kids, spending all their time staring at a screen inside.” We’ve all heard it before. And for folks suffering from mental illness, it can be even worse, especially if your condition already makes outside look like a battleground. It’s not often we get to hear that gaming is something that helps relieve these symptoms. In fact, most of the time it offers short-term help through virtual battles, while making inside look even more appealing than it already is. Now, in a rare turn of events, we have Pokémon Go – newly released game from Niantic Inc., it’s giving people normally strapped to their couches from illness a reason to stand up, get out, and interact with people.

Is this some weird mix of exercise and nostalgia creating a remedy for normally debilitating conditions? Whatever it is, it certainly seems to be working.

Drew, a student and volunteer working with people who have experienced transmisogyny, grew up with social anxiety and asbergers. Because of these two conditions, she found it difficult interacting with other children growing up. Pokémon, as it was for many people who grew up in the 90’s and early 2000’s, was a point of interest that allowed her to make friends.

Whatever it is, it certainly seems to be working.

“Today I still struggle with public social activities, and Pokémon GO has definitely helped me,” Drew said. “It provides a motivation to be in social spaces and public areas, in addition to go on walks and exercise.”

The exercise bit is an important one. Dozens of studies have been published linking walking and other physical activities to mental wellness.

While the game might not strictly have people walking in secluded natural areas, it will have them outside in nature at least partially. So they’re in a forest, who cares? Actually, that has also proven to help mental wellness. There is an entire field of psychology called ecotherapy, which involves using natural environments to cure symptoms of mental illness. Perhaps this is part of the solution. We’ll have to wait for further research into this phenomenon before coming to any conclusions.

Ashley Jordan Davis, a self-proclaimed liberal from Florida, has experienced similar positive reactions. The 30-year-old suffers from PTSD caused by a severe gang rape she experienced in her youth, and has been struggling to find reasons to leave her house since her illness began.

Then came Pokémon Go.

“In the last few years, I’ve been trying a lot of different things to break out of this anxiety shell that I’ve been trapped in,” Ashley said. “I started a blog, that helped a bit, but it was still something that I was doing from inside my home.”

Then came Pokémon Go. That first weekend she found herself walking over 9.5 kilometers, laughing and interacting with other people playing the game. And when she encountered overwhelming social situations?

“I pulled out my phone, and was able to focus on the different PokéStops that were around me, caught a few Pokémon and was able to mentally remove myself from the chaos of the crowd.”

Satoshi Tajiri created Pokémon first as a game in 1995 for Nintendo’s early handheld system, the Gameboy. For people born after the late 80’s and early 90’s it offers a sense of comfort and nostalgia. Many people spent most of their childhoods trading cards, playing Gameboy, and watching Ash, Misty and Brock defeat Team Rocket countless times.

For Robin, a 19-year-old art history student who suffers from moderate depression and severe anxiety, this familiarity only adds to the support she feels from the game.

“The familiarity of Pokémon eases and distracts me from my anxiety,” Robin said. “If I meet someone while playing the game, I’m not worried about not having enough to talk about. I’m not worried about boring them or uncomfortable silences, which are things I get very anxious about.”

Awkward silences are awful to experience for healthy people, but for those struggling with illnesses like Robin they can be much worse. With an entire media franchise like Pokémon, there is an endless wealth of things to keep them at bay.

Tajiri took much of his inspiration for the creatures from his childhood hobby of bug collection, and he must take comfort in knowing that twenty years later, people are finding themselves feeling better from doing what he loved with his creations.

Here’s hoping that more game creators will be inspired by Pokémon Go, and continue to make games that get people up, out, interacting, and feeling better.


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