Video games are used to help children and adults with mental health issues
LOWELL – A happy kid who loved daycare, Lowell’s Jason McCarthy struggled when the pandemic separated him from his friends and routine.
“Four to five year olds should be the happiest, they’re oblivious to everything or should be, and this just wasn’t a happy kid. Something’s going on,” her mother Meghan said.
With her son now in first grade, Meghan didn’t know how to help.
“He had a lot of emotional dysregulation and my mum would google, ‘How do we deal with a kid that just sort of explodes?'” she recalled.
That’s when they discovered Mightier. It’s a video game that, according to founder and scientific director Jason Kahn, helps children learn to manage their emotions.
“It helps children develop emotional strength. So emotional strength is the ability to stay calm and collected in the face of life’s challenges,” he said.
According to Kahn, research has already shown that playing games on Mightier can help children with ADHD. Now it’s used for a wide range of mental health issues.
It works by using a wrist-worn heart rate monitor. As the child’s heart rate increases, the game prompts the player to do a simple exercise, such as slowly moving the arm across the chest or taking slow, deep breaths.
“It makes me calmer,” Jason said while playing the game on his couch.
“They do it hundreds and hundreds of times and they develop muscle memory to cool off when that frustration comes up and they don’t have to think about it,” Kahn said.
Virtual reality is also used to promote good mental health. One of the technological elements is a helmet from XR-Health, which was originally developed for home physiotherapy.
But the service also offers calming scenes that can benefit children and adults with anxiety and depression.
“What VR allows is to transport [the user] in a totally different place and for mental health, that can be very powerful,” said XR Health founder Eran Orr.
For Jason, playing game technology to learn self-regulation doesn’t feel like treatment or work.
“I love them. I play Monday, Wednesday and Friday,” he said.
“I really think it’s worth it,” added her mother. “I see improvements and he likes doing it.”