The Relationship Between Video Games and Depression

The relationship between video games and depression is important to understand; especially if you’re dealing with both. Learn about it on HealthyPlace.

It’s becoming increasingly evident that the relationship between video games and depression is real and significant. Researchers are still studying gaming disorder to better understand how excessive gaming impacts people. Something they know already is that understanding the relationship between video games and depression can help treat both.           

Video games and depression occur together in over a quarter of all people with gaming disorder. One group of study participants were addicted to video games, while the people in the control group were not hooked on gaming. Just over 26 percent of the video gamers had depression. Slightly more than 11 percent of non-gamers had depression (Liu, 2018).

The high percentage of gamers with depression compared to non-gamers indicates that although not everyone addicted to video games is depressed, the relationship between video games and depression is strong. Multiple studies (Whittek, et al., 2016) have shown that video game addiction is associated with numerous symptoms of depression, including:

  • Low mood
  • Lack of energy
  • Sleep problems
  • Irritability

This begs a new question: Does one disorder cause the other? Are video games causing depression in heavy gamers, or are people with depression turning to video games as an escape?

The Relationship Between Video Games and Depression: Is It Cause-and-Effect?

The answer to the question about the nature of the relationship between video games and depression is unsatisfactory to researchers, mental health professionals, and those with gaming disorder and depression. The nature is unknown, at least for now.

The problem isn’t that researchers don’t understand the connection. On the contrary, they understand it very well.

Liu and his colleagues (2018), for example, are among those who study the human brain and its functioning in disorders. They found that the same areas of the brain had abnormal functioning in both depression and gaming disorder. The amygdala, prefrontal cortex, gyrus, and the connection between the frontoparietal lobe and the amygdala are disrupted in the same way in addicted gamers and in people with depression.

The problem lies in untangling the connection to see if one causes the other. Currently, it’s a chicken-and-egg conundrum. Gamers who live with depression may increasingly turn to gaming to escape their symptoms such as negative emotions, thoughts, and moods. Getting lost in gaming may be a sign of a problem in the gamer’s real-world life, an indication that something is missing.

On the other hand, depression may develop as a result of the gaming lifestyle. Long hours spent without exercise or much movement at all, nutrition and hydration that are often poor, lack of significant interaction with real-world people, and an intense focus on the content of the game can all contribute to the development of depression.

Depression and Video Games are Correlated

At this point, no one has yet to determine a cause-and-effect relationship between depression and gaming disorder. Therefore, the two conditions are considered to be correlated: they’re related; one influences the other; and when one intensifies, the other does, too.

The fact that excessive gaming and depression are correlated has great implications for people facing both conditions. Treating one helps the other. For example, brain-based research indicates that therapy for depression improves both depression and gaming addiction. Getting help for one can end up being a double bonus when both depression and gaming disorder symptoms subside.

There’s no wrong way to start treatment. The important thing is simply to begin, because taking that first action step is what leads the way toward reduced depression and gaming disorder. Use the relationship to your advantage:

  • Tune in to your unique experience. If you find that the more you play, the more depressed you become, you could begin healing by gradually reducing your time spent gaming
  • If you find that you’re down more often than not and turn to gaming to deal with it, you might seek professional help for depression and see your gaming time decrease as you replace it with other things

If you or someone you care about is experiencing firsthand the relationship between video games and depression, you can use the correlation to your advantage. Begin treating your symptoms, and you are quite likely to see both conditions improve.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2021, December 15). The Relationship Between Video Games and Depression, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 25 from

Last Updated: December 30, 2021

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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