My Experience: Pokémon Go & Mental Health

So I’d heard a few mutterings about this game being good for people who suffer from mental health conditions… I figured I’d weigh in with my 2 day experience of it. I had a few days off from work and had some time to kill. I’ve suffered from depression and an acute anxiety disorder basically for as long as I can remember; I’ve shown symptoms since childhood.

The game released in the UK yesterday – I was lying in bed, curled up in a ball and really not feeling like doing much of anything when my little brother bounded into my room and demanded I come on a walk to find Pokémon. I don’t do walks, and I am warm, comfy and quite safe where I am. However, I caved and dragged myself out of bed. Grudgingly.

I boot the game up, dress my character in a little red outfit and then we’re off. “I don’t have much data left,” I whine as we get far enough from the house to lose the WiFi signal. “It doesn’t use that much,” he reassures, leading me towards some gym somewhere (which apparently I can’t even go into because I’m level 1, and you have to be level 5). He’s been playing it for a week before the release so he’s had a head start.

We get to some field in the middle of nowhere, and he explains that there are Pokéstops which I can get items from. I don’t really get it but I pick them up anyway. And then all of a sudden – oh god, there are people. SO MANY PEOPLE. I’m convinced they’re going to judge me, a grown adult running around collecting Pokémon in a field. And then I realise that they’re giving me knowing smiles, because they’re doing exactly the same. There’s a funny camaraderie about it. This is quite odd, I decide, but also kind of nice. I catch some Pokémon, anyway, and I go up a few levels. Still not enough to go and fight at a gym (but honestly fighting doesn’t sound much fun to me anyway).

More importantly, I’d left the house, and been out in the daylight and fresh air for about 2 hours (a rarity for me – if I have time off I normally isolate myself and sit indoors).

Today I went out twice, with 2 different friends who wanted to go and get Pokémon! I wandered for hours and caught more Pokémon. I was stopped and spoken to by kids in school uniform, asking if I was playing and did I know there was a Squirtle by McDonald’s? And did I have any good ones yet? A greying chap stopped us and asked what all this Pokémon stuff was about, and what all these kids were looking for outside his office. I felt really functional and even social. This is literally the most social I’ve been in years, possibly ever. Normally I just avoid strangers as much as  possible, avoid their gaze, avoid conversation. Avoid everything. Stay home.

It’s been an interesting experiment. Watch this space, I suppose? It seems a good way of motivating people who would otherwise curl up and withdraw to actually leave the house, and gives you something in common with a lot of people that makes it less frightening to speak to them. For people who hate exercise and wouldn’t set foot in a gym even if you paid them, it’s worth noting that I’ve walked 17km in the past 2 days.

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