Latimer: Pokeman Go offers nonthreatening social outing

It would be hard to miss the latest trend sweeping the nation the past couple of weeks.

LatimerEven if you don’t engage with social media or the news, it would be hard to miss the latest trend sweeping the nation.

Chances are good if you’ve been out in a public place, you’ve noticed more than typical numbers of people walking around glued to their phones.

Millions of people are playing a new augmented reality game called Pokemon Go.

Users walk around their neighbourhoods and cities to find Pokemon characters, hatch eggs or meet up to battle their Pokemon in ‘gyms’—all using their smartphones.

Think what you will about the game or its players, this is a fad that is getting a lot of attention and some proponents say it has potential positive effects for people living with anxiety and depression.

A recent CBC article out of Edmonton interviewed a couple of young people who claim the game has helped them break a cycle of avoidance and given them a structure and purpose to resume getting out of their homes and interacting with other people.

This very well could be a helpful tool for some—in particular for people whose anxiety keeps them from leaving their homes.

Searching for a Pokemon character could prove an effective distraction and allow the individual to be in feared situations such as crowded places without focusing on their anxiety.

Once a person has experienced the spot with positive association or without triggering anxiety, it becomes easier to repeat that exposure or gradually increase it.

This is similar to how we deal with avoidant behaviour in a therapeutic setting.

Gradual exposure to feared situations helps to lessen the grip of fear.

For people experiencing difficulty socializing or who feel depressed and isolated, this game gives a non-threatening conversation starter and also helps players feel they are not alone.

When a person walks to a crowded spot while playing the game, it is easy to identify others who are also playing.

Some say the experience of quickly looking around an area and determining other likely players helps them feel they are not alone.

Though we tend to hear negative comments about the addictive nature of such games or critiques of people focusing entirely on their phones and walking zombie-like through town, it is also possible to find a positive side to a game like Pokemon Go.

For some, it is providing at least a temporary relief from symptoms that can be both distressing and debilitating.

Of course, a game like this is not a substitute for effective treatment.

Though it may be a complimentary tool, if you are experiencing anxiety or depression to the point you are avoiding contact with other people or places, speak with your doctor.

Effective treatments are available.