Do gamers get depressed?

Gaming has become an incredibly popular hobby and pastime, with millions of people across the world playing video games on a regular basis. However, some research has suggested that spending excessive amounts of time gaming may lead to symptoms of depression in some gamers.

What does the research say about gaming and depression?

Several studies have found connections between high levels of gaming activity and increased depressive symptoms:

  • A 2019 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders looked at gameplay data from thousands of people who play League of Legends. The study found a correlation between higher rates of gameplay and higher scores on a depression assessment.
  • A meta-analysis published in Psychological Bulletin in 2021 analyzed results from over 20 studies on gaming and mental health. The researchers found a small but significant association between depressive symptoms and problematic gaming.
  • A longitudinal study published in 2020 in The American Journal of Psychiatry followed thousands of adolescents over 4 years. The study found that those who became compulsive gamers were about twice as likely to develop depression compared to those who didn’t.

However, it’s important to note that these studies demonstrate a correlation, not a direct causal relationship. In other words, while excessive gaming may be linked to depression risk, it’s not clear whether the gaming directly causes the depression to develop.

Why might gaming lead to depression for some people?

Researchers have proposed several potential reasons why spending large amounts of time gaming may contribute to depression for some individuals:

  • Displacement of other activities: When gaming takes up increasing amounts of time, it may displace social, physical, academic/work, and other activities that are important for mental health.
  • Isolation: Excessive gaming may lead to increased social isolation, which is a risk factor for depression.
  • Lack of real-world accomplishments: Spending large amounts of time gaming may prevent people from pursuing real-world goals and meaningful accomplishments.
  • Distorted perceptions: Being immersed in gaming environments for many hours per day may distort perceptions of real life.
  • Sleep deprivation: Gaming into the late night can disrupt sleep schedules, potentially contributing to mood disturbances.
  • Chemical changes: Some research indicates gaming may affect dopamine levels or reward pathways in the brain, which could influence mood regulation.

However, it’s complex, and gaming likely interacts with pre-existing biological and psychological vulnerabilities in contributing to depression for some people.

Do all gamers have a higher risk of becoming depressed?

No, not all gamers are prone to developing symptoms of depression. There are a few key factors that determine whether gaming may lead to depression risk:

  • Gaming habits: Those who play video games in moderation (less than 2 hours per day on average) do not appear to have an increased risk of depression compared to non-gamers.
  • Gaming disorder/addiction: Problematic gaming, where gaming takes increasing priority over other aspects of life, is associated with higher rates of depression. This is sometimes called “gaming disorder” or gaming addiction.
  • Use of games to cope: Using games to avoid real-life problems or escape negative moods, rather than for enjoyment, is linked to higher depression risk.
  • Individual vulnerabilities: Those with pre-existing mental health issues, lack of social support, or life stresses may have higher vulnerability to depression linked to gaming.

Casual gamers who play in moderation primarily for enjoyment appear to have no elevation in depression risk compared to non-gamers.

What are symptoms of gaming-linked depression?

The symptoms of depression that may be linked to excessive gaming can include:

  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite and sleep patterns
  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts

These symptoms would represent a change from a person’s normal state that persists for most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks.

Those with gaming-related depression may also display frustration, agitation, anxiety, irritability, or anger when unable to access games or forced to cut back their gaming time.

What are the risks associated with gaming-related depression?

There are several risks and complications associated with depression that emerges in the context of excessive gaming:

  • Worsening symptoms over time – Without treatment, gaming-related depression can worsen and lead to greater impairment and more severe major depressive episodes.
  • Higher suicide risk – Depression represents one of the greatest known risk factors for suicide. People with gaming-linked depression may have an elevated risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
  • Strained relationships – Symptoms can interfere with family, social, and work/academic relationships, potentially leading to isolation.
  • Declining performance – Depression can affect concentration, motivation, and energy levels, taking a toll on school/work and achievement.
  • Development of anxiety – Many people with depression also experience symptoms of anxiety, such as panic attacks, phobias, and generalized anxiety.
  • Substance misuse – Individuals with depression sometimes self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, or medications, which can lead to addiction.
  • Physical health effects – Ongoing depression has been linked to increased risk for health issues like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Seeking help is crucial for identifying and managing these potential risks.

Can cutting back gaming help improve depression?

For those experiencing gaming disorder and associated depression, reducing or quitting gaming may be an effective step. However:

  • Symptoms will not always improve right away. It may take weeks for changes in mood and interest levels to manifest after cutting back gaming time.
  • Cutting back gaming may need to be gradual to avoid withdrawal effects.
  • Other underlying factors contributing to depression (e.g. trauma, grief, medical illness, genetics) may need to be addressed as well.
  • Relapse is common, so developing new hobbies and social support networks is key.
  • Getting treatment via therapy and/or medication is often crucial for managing depression, even after reducing gaming.

Consulting mental health professionals can help create an effective plan for reducing gaming in a sustainable way that supports improved mental health.

Are there certain games more associated with depression?

A few genres and types of games that have shown stronger links to problematic use and depression include:

  • MMORPGs – Massively multiplayer online role-playing games like World of Warcraft require major time commitments and online interaction with other players.
  • MOBAs – Multiplayer online battle arenas like League of Legends involve competitive team-based play with matches that require 20-60 minutes.
  • First-person shooter games – Fast-paced shooting games like Call of Duty can be difficult to stop playing due to quick dopamine hits.
  • Simulation games – Open-ended simulation games allow escaping real life in an alternate reality.
  • Social casino games – Gambling-like social games may be addictive due to variable reward/loss cycles.

However, any game genre can potentially contribute to problematic use and depression depending on the person and their vulnerabilities.

How can you tell if your gaming is unhealthy?

Signs that gaming may have become excessive or unhealthy include:

  • Gaming for increasing amounts of time and cutting back on other activities.
  • Thinking constantly about gaming when not playing.
  • Feeling restless, irritable, or angry if unable to play.
  • Continuing to game despite physical discomfort, obligations, or negative consequences.
  • Playing as a way to cope with stress, anxiety, or sadness.
  • Lying to others about the amount of time spent gaming.
  • Needing to game more to get the same enjoyment from it.

Paying attention to these signs and being honest with yourself about your gaming habits is key to cutting back on unhealthy gaming before it contributes to depression.

Are there certain people more prone to gaming-related depression?

While anyone can develop problematic gaming patterns, some personality traits and demographics appear to have heightened vulnerability:

  • Younger people – Gaming disorder is more common in adolescents and young adults.
  • Introverts – Introverted people may be more prone to over-reliance on gaming for social interaction.
  • People with impulsive traits – Impulsive individuals may have difficulty regulating their gaming behavior.
  • People with anxiety/depression – Those with pre-existing mental health challenges may use gaming to self-medicate.
  • Neurodiverse individuals – Some research links ADHD, autism, and disordered sleep to problematic gaming.
  • Men – Male gender is a reported risk factor for compulsive gaming and gaming disorder.

However, researchers caution against assumptions, as gaming can become unhealthy for anyone regardless of gender, personality, or status.

What are healthy gaming habits?

Gaming can be an enjoyable hobby that enhances life when practiced with balance and moderation. Recommendations for healthy gaming include:

  • Limit gaming sessions to under 2 hours per day on average.
  • Take regular breaks during longer sessions.
  • Primarily play games socially with others, either cooperatively or competitively.
  • Choose games with natural stopping points.
  • Ensure gaming doesn’t interfere with sleep, work, exercise, socializing, and other priorities.
  • Monitor feelings during and after gaming to make sure you are still feeling positively motivated.
  • Abstain from gaming during times of stress or emotional distress.

Discussing healthy boundaries around gaming with family and friends can also be beneficial.

Are there ways to treat gaming-related depression?

If gaming has become unhealthy and led to depression, it is important to seek help through one or more of these treatment options:

  • Psychotherapy – Counseling helps develop tools to reduce gaming, manage underlying issues, and support improved coping.
  • Medication – Antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication may be used to address mood symptoms.
  • Support groups – Group therapy focused on gaming disorder provides mutual understanding and accountability.
  • Family therapy – Addressing family relationship dynamics around excessive gaming can help.
  • Recovery programs – Structured inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment may help in severe cases.
  • Lifestyle changes – Cultivating new hobbies, social connections, and goals supports long-term recovery.

A comprehensive treatment approach combining multiple of these options is usually most effective.


In summary, there does appear to be a correlation between high levels of gaming activity and increased depression symptoms and risk in some individuals. This seems especially likely when gaming takes priority over other aspects of life and leads to isolation or diminished real-world functioning. Not all gamers develop depression, but those with certain vulnerabilities may be prone. Reducing gaming in an unhealthy way and seeking treatment can help manage gaming-related depression.

With balanced habits and moderation, the majority of individuals can engage in video gaming as an enjoyable leisure activity without mental health risks. Being mindful of gaming’s effects and creating reasonable boundaries is crucial for maintaining healthy engagement.

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