Pokémon Go is doing wonders for people with social anxiety and depression

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Pokémon Go seems to be rolling off everyone’s Lickitung, and there’s a good reason — the Android and iOS app has only been out for a week but it’s already improving people’s mental health.

If you scour the many #PokémonGO-related tweets on Twitter, you’ll find that many people are posting about how the augmented reality game is helping their mental health, mood, social anxiety, and depression. The app uses your smartphone’s GPS and encourages players, or “trainers,” to go outside and interact with various local landmarks to interact with them as Pokéstops and Gyms in the game. You can catch various Pokémon just about anywhere, and there’s a tracker that notes which specific ones are nearby.

But apart from helping people be more active, the game is also bringing more people together. Dr. John Grohol, founder of the mental health network Psych Central, says while the developers behind Pokémon Go didn’t “mean to create a mental health gaming app,” they’ve effectively done so.

“I think this is a wonderful demonstration of the unintentional but beneficial consequences of gaming and producing a game that encourages healthy exercise,” Grohol, an expert on online behavior and mental health, writes in a blog post. “Hundreds of app developers have tried to develop mood-altering apps by encouraging people to track their mood or providing them with encouraging affirmations. But these apps rarely catch on, and few people continue using them past the first week.”

A lot of this analysis is going off what people are saying on Twitter, but research has been saying for a while that exercise and going outside can improve people’s mood. Motivating someone to do those things has been hard, but Pokémon Go has managed to succeed thanks to the long-running success of pocket monsters.

“Granted, it’s through their smartphone acting as an interface, but walking is walking, even if the motivation for doing so is to play a game,”Grohol writes. “For a person suffering from depression or another mood disorder, the idea of exercise can be nearly impossible to contemplate, much less do. For someone suffering from social anxiety, the idea of going outside and possibly bumping into others who may want to talk to you is daunting.”

You’ve probably seen more about Pokémon online than you ever thought you would. Perhaps you’ve even downloaded the PokeGone Chrome extension to block all Pokémon-related content from the web. If that’s the case, you won’t see this article, but for the rest of you that haven’t tried the game yet — it may be worth a try if you are looking for an alternative to improving your mental health. Of course, it’s not the solution to treating depression or anxiety, but it could help.

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