Can Video Games Affect Your Mental Health? Insights on Anxiety and Depression

By Sarah Earles, MS, LPC, NCC | June 21, 2024

Does video game play impact anxiety and depression? This is literally a million-dollar question, an inquiry into which businesses, scientists, and universities have devoted over a decade of research. There are no conclusions about exactly how video game play impacts anxiety and depression, but there are documented connections. These connections can inform how individuals engage with video games in their everyday lives.

Correlation, Not Causation

Research has yet to demonstrate direct causal relationships between video game play and mental health conditions. Researchers have discovered overlaps, however (Peterson, 2021; Zaera, 2022). Researchers have found that gaming and depression can coincide (Gillette, 2022). They have discovered that individuals who struggle with social connections may game more (Better Help Editorial Team, 2023). Studies have shown that individuals with depression may use gaming to escape and/or self medicate (Better Help Editorial Team, 2023; Laderer, 2023; Stasuik, 2023, Web MD Editorial Contributors, 2024). Whether these relationships are causal or consequential, or perhaps some of both, remains to be seen (Von der Heiden et al., 2019). The fact that video games can impact mental health, however, remains clear.

Risks of Video Games

The risks of video games exhibit most prominently in those who use games excessively. This is also known as problematic gaming behavior (PGB) (Laderer, 2023). Individuals may use video games excessively due to the dopamine these games release (Hampton, 2022; Healthy Gamer, 2023; Wheeler, 2022). While this dopamine release may temporarily relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression, it can exacerbate these conditions in the long run. As several studies found, “excessive gaming can lead to dopamine exhaustion, emotional suppression, and lack of motivation, among other issues” (Healthy Gamer, 2020). Violent video game play seems especially risky, given associations found between addiction, anxiety, and depression and the individuals who play these games (Alarahili et al., 2023; Laderer; Tortolero et al., 2014). Excessive video game playing can also lead to social isolation, which can worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression (Lieberman, 2023). Dissociation is another negative consequence that can come from excessive game play (Guglielmucci et al, 2019). Though the potential for benefits of video games remains, these risks indicate that individuals should proceed with awareness and caution when developing video game habits.

Conclusion

Will science ever prove a causal relationship between video game play and mental health conditions? Probably not. The number of video games is too vast, and the population too diverse to measure accurately. Individuals should consider their own relationships to video game play, however, to evaluate if that play is beneficial, harmful, or somewhere in-between. For those struggling with anxiety and depression, and/or addiction related to gaming, a mental health professional can be of assistance.

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Does video game play impact anxiety and depression? This is literally a million-dollar question, an inquiry into which businesses, scientists, and universities have devoted over a decade of research. There are no conclusions about exactly how video game play impacts anxiety and depression, but there are documented connections. These connections can inform how individuals engage with video games in their everyday lives.

Correlation, Not Causation

Research has yet to demonstrate direct causal relationships between video game play and mental health conditions. Researchers have discovered overlaps, however (Peterson, 2021; Zaera, 2022). Researchers have found that gaming and depression can coincide (Gillette, 2022). They have discovered that individuals who struggle with social connections may game more (Better Help Editorial Team, 2023). Studies have shown that individuals with depression may use gaming to escape and/or self medicate (Better Help Editorial Team, 2023; Laderer, 2023; Stasuik, 2023, Web MD Editorial Contributors, 2024). Whether these relationships are causal or consequential, or perhaps some of both, remains to be seen (Von der Heiden et al., 2019). The fact that video games can impact mental health, however, remains clear.

Risks of Video Games

The risks of video games exhibit most prominently in those who use games excessively. This is also known as problematic gaming behavior (PGB) (Laderer, 2023). Individuals may use video games excessively due to the dopamine these games release (Hampton, 2022; Healthy Gamer, 2023; Wheeler, 2022). While this dopamine release may temporarily relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression, it can exacerbate these conditions in the long run. As several studies found, “excessive gaming can lead to dopamine exhaustion, emotional suppression, and lack of motivation, among other issues” (Healthy Gamer, 2020). Violent video game play seems especially risky, given associations found between addiction, anxiety, and depression and the individuals who play these games (Alarahili et al., 2023; Laderer; Tortolero et al., 2014). Excessive video game playing can also lead to social isolation, which can worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression (Lieberman, 2023). Dissociation is another negative consequence that can come from excessive game play (Guglielmucci et al, 2019). Though the potential for benefits of video games remains, these risks indicate that individuals should proceed with awareness and caution when developing video game habits.

Conclusion

Will science ever prove a causal relationship between video game play and mental health conditions? Probably not. The number of video games is too vast, and the population too diverse to measure accurately. Individuals should consider their own relationships to video game play, however, to evaluate if that play is beneficial, harmful, or somewhere in-between. For those struggling with anxiety and depression, and/or addiction related to gaming, a mental health professional can be of assistance.

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References

Alrahili, N., Alreefi, M., Alkhonain, I. M., Aldakhilallah, M., Alothaim, J., Alzahrani, A., Alshargi, A., & Baabbad, N. (2023). The prevalence of video game addiction and its relation to anxiety, depression, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children and adolescents in Saudi Arabia: A cross-sectional study. Cureus, 15(8), e42957. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.42957

Better Help Editorial Team. (2026, February 26). Are video games and depression connected? Better Help. https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/depression/are-video-games-and-depression-connected/

Gillette, H. (2022, June 15). Can video games cause depression? PsychCentral. https://psychcentral.com/depression/can-video-games-cause-depression

Guglielmucci, F.,  Monti, M., & Franzoi, I.G., Santoro, G., Granieri, A., Billieux, J., & Schimmenti, A. (2019, March). Dissociation in problematic gaming: A systematic review. Current Addiction Reports 6(14), 1-14. doi: 10.1007/s40429-019-0237-z.

Hampton, D. (2022, April 7). Video games and young adult depression. Addiction Center. https://www.addictioncenter.com/community/video-games-young-adult-depression/

Healthy Gamer. (2020, July 13). Video games and depression: Is there a connection? https://www.healthygamer.gg/blog/video-games-and-depression

Laderer, A. (2023, July 5). Video games and mental health: The good and the bad. Charlie Health. https://www.charliehealth.com/post/video-games-and-mental-health

Lieberman, A. (2023, October 3). Video games & depression: What is the connection? Choosing Therapy. https://www.choosingtherapy.com/video-games-and-depression/

Peterson, T.J. (2021, December 30). The relationship between video games and depression. Healthy Place. https://www.healthyplace.com/addictions/gaming-disorder/the-relationship-between-video-games-and-depression

Stasuik, C. (2023, July 17). Gaming, mental health, and depression. Heads up guys. https://headsupguys.org/video-gaming-mental-health-and-depression/

Tortolero, S. R., Peskin, M. F., Baumler, E. R., Cuccaro, P. M., Elliott, M. N., Davies, S. L., Lewis, T. H., Banspach, S. W., Kanouse, D. E., & Schuster, M. A. (2014). Daily violent video game

References

Alrahili, N., Alreefi, M., Alkhonain, I. M., Aldakhilallah, M., Alothaim, J., Alzahrani, A., Alshargi, A., & Baabbad, N. (2023). The prevalence of video game addiction and its relation to anxiety, depression, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children and adolescents in Saudi Arabia: A cross-sectional study. Cureus, 15(8), e42957. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.42957

Better Help Editorial Team. (2026, February 26). Are video games and depression connected? Better Help. https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/ depression/are-video-games-and-depression-connected/

Gillette, H. (2022, June 15). Can video games cause depression? PsychCentral. https://psychcentral.com/depression/can -video-games-cause-depression

Guglielmucci, F.,  Monti, M., & Franzoi, I.G., Santoro, G., Granieri, A., Billieux, J., & Schimmenti, A. (2019, March). Dissociation in problematic gaming: A systematic review. Current Addiction Reports 6(14), 1-14. doi: 10.1007/s40429-019-0237-z.

Hampton, D. (2022, April 7). Video games and young adult depression. Addiction Center. https://www.addictioncenter.com/ community/video-games-young-adult-depression/

Healthy Gamer. (2020, July 13). Video games and depression: Is there a connection? https://www.healthygamer.gg/blog/video-games-and-depression

Laderer, A. (2023, July 5). Video games and mental health: The good and the bad. Charlie Health. https://www.charliehealth.com/post/video -games-and-mental-health

Lieberman, A. (2023, October 3). Video games & depression: What is the connection? Choosing Therapy. https://www.choosingtherapy.com/video-games-and-depression/

Peterson, T.J. (2021, December 30). The relationship between video games and depression. Healthy Place. https://www.healthyplace.com/addictions /gaming-disorder/the-relationship-between-video-games-and-depression

Stasuik, C. (2023, July 17). Gaming, mental health, and depression. Heads up guys. https://headsupguys.org/video-gaming-mental-health-and-depression/

Tortolero, S. R., Peskin, M. F., Baumler, E. R., Cuccaro, P. M., Elliott, M. N., Davies, S. L., Lewis, T. H., Banspach, S. W., Kanouse, D. E., & Schuster, M. A. (2014). Daily violent video game