As we move through and out of the pandemic, reflecting on the impacts on mental health and wellbeing is vital in supporting people with the challenges they may face. While the impacts of social isolation may seem more immediate with regards to loneliness, anxiety, and depression, there are other behavioural factors and activities intertwined with our mental health, that need consideration.
Gaming and gambling can provide entertainment and excitement as well as social connectedness, especially during the pandemic, at a time when other activities were prohibited due to the restrictions. A diverse and young audience engages with gaming with 93% of children playing video games in the UK. Despite the legal age for most gambling activities being 18, research shows that 450,000 children gamble in the UK. As such, for children and young people, additional attention is needed as challenges and harms can present in them.
The potential underlying causes of gaming addiction
It is important to acknowledge the positive aspects people may experience from gaming but there is also a need for awareness of those who might start to or be experiencing harms and challenges, including challenges to their mental health. Gaming and gambling can serve as a way for people to escape/cope with their mental health challenges and difficulties, or challenges and difficulties can be developed when engaging with gaming and/or gambling. For example, someone who might struggle with depression may choose to game as a way of coping/escaping from depression, but this, in turn, may not address the depression hence the challenges and difficulties with mental health remain. They may also show signs of becoming preoccupied with gaming and neglecting the other aspects of their wellbeing and daily life. In this instance, previous mental health challenges could be the underlying factor in someone’s gaming and gambling activities.
Alternatively, gaming and gambling activities can create challenges and harms which can impact mental health for example, someone who develops urges to be continuingly gaming and/or gambling could be showing signs of addiction/obsession which can impact on mental health, for example, low mood, withdrawal, and agitation when not playing. Although the role of addiction in gaming may still be debated the related signs of harms and challenges can still present in people. An additional consideration needed is that the overlaps between gaming and gambling have been highlighted from previous research looking into game features such as loot boxes which are virtual lucky dips where players are randomly given in-game items of varying value.
The combination of the pandemic and the increased accessibility of gaming and gambling means greater awareness is needed to support those experiencing or developing gaming and/or gambling-related harms. Health practitioners who work with children and young people will be dealing with the fallout from the pandemic and whilst they are regularly kept up to date with regards to other factors surrounding mental health, an area in need of more awareness is gaming and gambling.
The MRP programme
The Mindful Resilience Programme (MRP) was created to support and equip practitioners to better understand the role gambling and gaming play in the lives of children and young people, and how to interact with them. Practitioners in our research, and in the MRP sessions we have already run, confirmed that they were coming into contact with gaming and/or gambling-related challenges with the children and young people they work with. People with lived experience of gaming and/or gambling-related harms were also involved in the development of the MRP with audio recordings used during the session to enhance the programme.
- See also: 'Shadow minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan welcomes new gaming and gambling addiction training'
- See also: 'Changing the narrative: how gaming can be used for good in mental health'
Additionally, due to some of the jargon, terminology, and nature of the activities, health practitioners were facing challenges in supporting children and young people with the consequences related to gaming and/or gambling. Therefore, the MRP workshop aims to fill in those specific knowledge gaps with regards to gaming and gambling activities, such as what harms might look like, some of the positive factors and motivations of children and young people to engage with these activities. We also aid the practitioners in the next steps, signposting to the support available, and encourage them to engage children and young people on the topic and have conversations with them. Those who take part in the workshop are also provided with practical easy to implement clinical resources.
We feel passionately about generating awareness and supporting children and young people. The workshop is free to access and is an interactive experience to support learning, with the pilot programme available to health practitioners throughout Greater London and the Home Counties.
For further information about the Mindful Resilience Programme please visit www.ygam.org/mindful-resilience. For those looking to arrange training through the Mindful Resilience Programme, please contact Dr Sarah Hodge at firstname.lastname@example.org