Our report –‘More than a game? Digital gaming therapies and mental health in young people’ recommends:

  1. Serious gaming and interactive therapy models must be integrated into the training and development for the next generation of mental health specialists and healthcare professionals.
  2. The Department of Health, NHS and Innovate UK should work with interactive media trade associations to establish a standing network of therapeutic specialists and commercial developers.
  3. UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) should fund a multi-disciplinary research programme on serious games for mental healthcare.

Why digital games for mental health disease?

mental health in young people report blog girl playing games

Current population data estimates that one in ten children aged between five and sixteen years have a diagnosable mental health condition. Current estimates suggest 50% of all mental health conditions have been established by the age of 14 years, increasing to 75% by the age of 24 years. The UK’s Department of Health claims that mental health cost the country £105 million a year and accounts for 23% of total NHS activity. Digital prevention and treatment of such conditions will ultimately be wide-ranging, therefore we explored the role of the therapeutic role of “serious games”.

The Task Force decided to initially focus on mental health amongst young people, not only to gain an insight into this rapidly growing epidemic, but to also establish a broader understanding on the essential innovation and skills required to implement new digital technologies across the NHS.

What did we find?

In the UK, digital gaming generated £4.66 billion in revenue in 2016, and this is expected to grow as mobile technologies become more sophisticated and other affordable technologies become available. The identification of digital tools to aid the delivery of established cost-effective treatment methods has the potential to add significant value not only for the patient, but also for the healthcare system.

Our analysis suggests that, on average Generation X will have approximately 10,000 hours of game time by the age of 20 and there is a growing body of research suggesting the potential benefits of ‘serious games’. The Task Force commissioned Elsevier to review academic outputs, including original research, meta-analysis and conference proceedings on the use of digital games for mental health. Results demonstrated significant and encouraging growth and that the UK is one the leading research communities globally. However, it is a truism that every field requires more research, but this is certainly true for this rapidly-growing field.

The use of serious games has the potential to add significant benefit to traditional treatment methods for mental health amongst young people, with the aim to improve self-management to instigate behaviour change. With such therapies demonstrating significant benefit across several specialities of medicine, deployment of such therapy modes can provide an alternative approach to optimising clinical effectiveness and efficiency. However, despite the known benefits, global competition is moving at a greater speed than that of current UK firms. At present, the UK is number three in academic research in this space, but there is yet much more that needs to be done to understand the mechanisms of therapeutic ‘serious games’.

Who was involved?

The NCUB Digital Health and Healthy Living Task Force was chaired by John Jeans (Chairman, EM Imaging, Chairman UK BioCentre, Adviser to the Prime Minster, Medical Technologies), Beverley Bryant (Chief Operating Officer at System C) and Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz (Chairman, Cancer Research UK). Furthermore, specialist input was provided from a top-level steering group complied of industry experts, clinicians, patient advocacy groups and academics. We are particularly grateful to PwC, Elsevier, Big Radical and XDs.