Computer game helps kids with depression

Paris - A computer game designed to lift teenagers out of depression is as effective as one-on-one counselling, New Zealand doctors reported on Thursday in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Researchers at the University of Auckland tested an interactive 3D fantasy game called Sparx on a 94 youngsters diagnosed with depression whose average age was 15 and a half.

Sparx invites a user to take on a series of seven challenges over four to seven weeks in which an avatar has to learn to deal with anger and hurt feelings and swap negative thoughts for helpful ones.

Used for three months, Sparx was at least as effective as face-to-face conventional counselling, according to several depression rating scales.

In addition, 44% of the Sparx group who carried out at least four of the seven challenges recovered completely. In the conventional treatment group, only 26% recovered fully.

"Use of the programme resulted in a clinically significant reduction in depression, anxiety and hopelessness, and an improvement in quality of life," according to the study led by Sally Merry, an associate professor at the Department of Psychological Medicine.

The adolescents also gave a high rating to Sparx, saying they liked being able to use it at home and to learn at their own pace.

Eighty percent said they would recommend the computer therapy to others, although the treatment-as-usual group had similarly high approval ratings.
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