A computer game developed at Auckland University is just as effective in overcoming teenage depression as one-on-one counselling, a study published by the British Medical Journal finds.
Researchers at the university ran a trial with 187 New Zealand teenagers seeking help for depression, with one group undergoing face-to-face therapy and the other using an interactive 3D fantasy game called SPARX.
In the game, the user takes on a series of seven challenges over four to seven weeks in which an avatar has to learn to deal with anger and hurt feelings and swap negative thoughts for helpful ones.
Results of the trial showed SPARX to be as effective as normal care in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety by at least a third.
In addition, 44 per cent of the SPARX group who carried out at least four of the seven challenges recovered completely. In the conventional treatment group, only 26 per cent recovered fully.
"Use of the programme resulted in a clinically significant reduction in depression, anxiety and hopelessness, and an improvement in quality of life," said the study authors, led by Sally Merry, an associate professor at Auckland University's Department of Psychological Medicine.
They say SPARX may be a cheaper alternative to usual care and be potentially more easily accessible to young people with depression in primary healthcare.