Ask Dr Mark

Ask Dr Mark
Escapism Through Gaming

Mark J. Kline | 14 Nov 2011 09:00
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Dear Dr Mark.

I have suffered from Bipolar Disorder for a number of years. I am currently seeing a psychiatrist for therapy and medication.

My family is mostly supportive, but there is some conflict when it comes to gaming.

I've been playing games for years, and have a tendency to spend more time on them when my depression is worse, and less time when I'm feeling better. Certain members of my family have tried to say that gaming causes my depression instead of helping me deal with it. Others say that gaming is merely a way of withdrawing instead of getting the help I need.

I always thought that gaming was a way of empowering myself when I felt sad and powerless. When I play I feel like a hero who is making an imaginary world into a better place. I love immersing myself in role-playing games that give me that heroic feeling. But now I'm worried that I'm just hiding in a shell, keeping the world at bay.

I guess my question really comes down to this: Are those family members right or am I? And what is your opinion on gaming and depression? Any ideas or advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for a fascinating question. Bipolar disorder is a serious condition which can involve severe, paralyzing, depressive episodes and intermittent manic phases with bursts of frenetic euphoria, sleeplessness, racing thoughts, grandiose thinking, impulsiveness, and poor judgement. There's obviously much more to say about this disorder, but I want Escapist readers to understand that this is heavy stuff.

Typically, drugs called mood stabilizers are used to manage this condition. The grandaddy of these is Lithium, but there are many others now in common use.
Some of my colleagues worry that Bipolar Disorder is over-diagnosed these days, to justify the use of these particular medications, which have complex risks and side-effects. For the sake of this response, I'm assuming you were properly diagnosed.

I find much hope in the way you have accepted the situation and sought out appropriate assistance. Since manic episodes can feel like a terrific joyride, many people resist both the diagnosis and treatments that will moderate them. You also have an awareness of your mood cycles and an idea that gaming may be a valuable coping strategy some of the time, and less necessary at other times. You seem to have found a balance that you feel good about, but some important family members are leery of it. They may be uncomfortable with gaming or they may underestimate the gravity of your condition and the need to escape from crushing psychological pain.

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