Speaking the Digital Language to Improve Mental Health

Article excerpt

IF you spent 10,000 hours playing a musical instrument before the age of 21, you would be a virtuoso.

If you play computer games for 10,000 hours before the same age, what do you qualify as?

Statistics compiled in the United States show 99% of males and 94% of females will have clocked 10,000 hours playing computer games by age 21.

Research into gaming has predominantly focused on the negative effects the violence might have on young people's minds rather than what skills and proficiency they develop.

A team of psychologists, social workers, mental health experts, educators and IT gurus at the University of the Sunshine Coast are embarking on a project to find out why computer games keep young people engaged for so long and decipher what skills they transfer into everyday life.

Engage Research director Christian Jones said the university group believed understanding more about goal-setting, rewards and social connection attained through gaming might help more young people improve their mental wellbeing.

aMillions of people are spending 17 to 22 hours a week playing World of Warcraft,a the associate professor said.

aOne in 75 people on the planet are playing Farmville and games like Facebook scrabble (Words with Friends) are attracting millions of players.

aIf young people are playing computer games for all these hours, then what positive effects can or are these computer games having?

aMany of these games set clear goals and have actionable steps to achieve that goal. Players are rewarded for achieving goals and then the game challenges players (with incremental difficulty).

aMany games require players to cooperate with others online and players are socially connected, working together to accomplish tasks.

aThese aspects of computer game design a clear goal-setting, action, rewards, resilience, incremental challenges and social connectedness a are all elements of mental wellbeing.

aSo we're hypothesising the act of playing these computer games must have the positive aspect of building mental wellbeing in young people.a

The research will form part of a national push to improve the mental wellbeing of young Australians through Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, which was launched in December with five years of funding.

Young and Well chief Jane Burns said many traditional methods to help young people a with suicide prevention, eating disorders and mental illnesses a no longer worked.

She said the aim was to find ways to communicate with young people about their mental wellbeing through technology using their language.

aWe need to find way to help them cope with adversity, and have good relationships with parents, friends and their communities,a she said.

aOne of the challenges as parents and professionals working with young people is the desire for young people to solve their own problems.

aThe second part is that we have been in need of a game change because we are not making a difference.

aWe're still seeing one in four young people experiencing a mental health difficulty and suicide is still up there with motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death for young people.

aWhat we're doing traditionally through parents and GPs, we're not actually impacting on those young people who need help. Only 11% of young men ask for help.

aWe've got a group of 19 young people from across Australia, aged 16 to 25, who are providing advice and support to researchers so they start doing things that will resonate with young people.a

Former Rudd Government mental health adviser John Mendoza, who is based on the Sunshine Coast and an adjunct professor at USC, said he too was excited about the potential of the collective minds involved in Young and Well CRC.

He said about 95% of the younger generation were using some form of social media daily. …