By David Docherty, Strategic Adviser

The UK government has announced a range of new initiatives on mental health among young people. These will include:

  • New mental health support teams to work in schools, with trainees to begin studying in January and join schools across England next year
  • The ‘State of the Nation’ will be published on World Mental Health Day each year and highlight trends and track issues in young people’s mental wellbeing
  • New tools to help schools measure students’ health, including their mental wellbeing

In NCUB’s report, More than a Game, we reviewed the potential of serious gaming as therapeutic tools. The evidence shows that serious gaming can support therapeutic regimes and encourage self-help; they offer solutions at scale at a lower cost than conventional treatments or interventions; UK universities are number two in the world for research on the effect of games, but this is not harnessed; and that there is a serious and significant digital skills gap in the NHS.

Gaming has too often been seen as a source of problem behaviour in teenagers, rather than as a way of helping them navigate this stage of their lives. Undoubtedly, there is much to be done to utilise the potential of the two thousand plus active games companies in the UK, to leverage high quality academic research, and to develop the training needed to up-skill therapists and carers to deploy serious gaming. But, as Matt Hancock, the UK’s health secretary, recently said: the NHS should be the most “cutting-edge system in the world for the use of technology to improve our health, make our lives easier, and make money go further, harnessing the amazing explosion of innovation that the connection of billions of minds through digital technology has brought to this world.”’

Eight out of ten teenagers play games, and we should harness this pervasive and immersive medium for good.

Surely, therefore, we must mobilise the games industry – one of the UK’s greatest tech success stories – and integrate their knowledge and ingenuity into this cutting-edge system. This is a complex and multi-faceted task, but to begin we recommend that:

  • Interactive therapy models be included in the medical, care, and ancillary worker degrees
  • As part of its new tech vision, the Department of Health should develop a policy framework to incentivise the NHS and Innovate UK to work with interactive media trade associations to advance the therapeutic power of serious gaming
  • UKRI should launch a multi-disciplinary research programme on gaming therapy

Teenagers are gamer. And we should meet them on their own virtual ground.

Published: 10 October 2018