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Veterans get their game on to fight depression, anxiety and PTSD


Some veterans who suffer from anxiety, depression and PTSD credit console video games in their recovery. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

Video games are often attributed for killing brain cells, but for veterans, video games may help fight off mental disorders.

A recent study suggests that Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy and focus-based video games may help veterans who have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression.

Clinical psychology doctoral candidate Simon Lau, who is also a veteran and studies psychological effects of deployment on military families, stands by these findings.

“Focus-based and virtual reality games can be extremely beneficial when aimed at providing relief from trauma,” Lau said.

VRET works by placing a veteran in an interactive environment controlled by a therapist. During treatment, veterans are placed in scenarios that try to recreate past traumatic events.

The idea is that by repeating these exposures, veterans will began to decrease their perception of threat.

“When certain fears are avoided they tend to become stronger, but if you confront that fear in a controlled environment, that fear will usually decrease or (even) extinguish,” Lau said.

Virtual reality treatment has been around since the 1990s, but many therapists have been hesitant to use the therapy, despite its success.

According to the Journal of Cyber Therapy and Rehabilitation, most studies have indicated a 66 to 90 percent rate of success in treatment when VRET replaced or supplemented traditional cognitive treatments.

The games that are being used for VR treatments are specifically designed for veterans. Games like Virtual Iraq and Virtual Afghanistan were created and evaluated by the Office of Naval Research and are used at UH in the the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston.

“(Houston VA) uses Virtual Iraq to expose vets with PTSD to reminders of trauma to cause extinction of the symptoms,” DeBakey Veteran Affairs psychiatrist Tom Newton said.

Some veterans who suffer from anxiety, depression or PTSD credit console video games in their recovery.

While he was never diagnosed with depression or anxiety, senior biochemistry major Kenny Morales said he can see how video games could help those with a diagnosis.

Morales, who spent 15 years in the military, suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving in combat and underwent intense rehabilitation.

Morales said he was bedridden for most of his rehabilitation and turned to video games because it was the only thing he could do. He said he spent the majority of his time playing the Xbox games Destiny, Warframe and Mortal Kombat.

“Video games were an escape,” Morales said. “With physical limitations, the games kept me sane and from becoming depressed.”

Due to his traumatic brain injury, Morales had trouble focusing and said that video games even helped with the cognitive issues he was experiencing.

Although some veterans have been able to deal with diagnoses on their own, professionals like the director of Veteran Services Celina Dugas warn that these self-help methods may not be suitable for all.

“I would caution any one of our student veterans to not go out and start playing video games to treat mental illness without consulting a professional to discuss all treatment options,” Dugas said.

Dugas said that while video games have been known to help, she would also ask that veterans refrain from playing games too much.

“I can imagine that it could be just like anything that makes you ‘feel better’,” Dugas said. “(But) can too much lead to another addiction?”

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