Computer game teaches depression management techniques

SPARX characters

A study carried out by the University of Auckland in New Zealand has found that using a computer game which teaches depression management techniques based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can reduce depression in teenagers more effectively than conventional treatment.

The game was developed by Metia Interactive under the direction of The Werry Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health at The University of Auckland and a number of actors, musicians and artists donated their skills to help create the game.

This video explains the thinking behind the game.

SPARX trailer

You can read the results of the study at the BMJ: SPARX study results

The abstract gives us this information:

Objective To evaluate whether a new computerised cognitive behavioural therapy intervention (SPARX, Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-factor thoughts) could reduce depressive symptoms in help seeking adolescents as much or more than treatment as usual.

Interventions Computerised cognitive behavioural therapy (SPARX) comprising seven modules delivered over a period of between four and seven weeks, versus treatment as usual comprising primarily face to face counselling delivered by trained counsellors and clinical psychologists.

Conclusions SPARX is a potential alternative to usual care for adolescents presenting with depressive symptoms in primary care settings and could be used to address some of the unmet demand for treatment.

Although this treatment has only been tested in teenagers I think that is only because that is the focus of the centre where it was developed. Computer gaming is popular in a far wider age range than just teenagers. I hope that this kind of treatment could be used to treat adults too, not least because I think that I would gain much more from this method myself than I have from the conventional CBT that I have been treated with so far.

SPARX is intended to be available to the public soon, although no information is given as to whether there will be a charge for the game.

Read more at the SPARX web site

Project details: SPARX – Gaming helps fight depression

Press release: E-therapy effective in combatting youth depression

BMJ: SPARX study results