5 Ways Dogs Supercharge Pokémon Go’s Mental Health Benefits

The Internet has been flooded with stories about the mental health benefits of playing Pokémon Go. But now a new twist on the wildly popular game just may make it the ultimate salve for depression.

Pokemon Go and Mental Health

While you’re tracking Pikachus, Pidgeottos or the treasured Dragonite, bring along a real live critter. Having a canine companion at your side — a Pokémon hunting dog, if you will — is not only good for the dog. It’s good for your psyche.

The basics of Pokémon Go remain the same. The goal is still to “catch” as many of the little monsters as you can, but now an Indiana animal shelter is asking that you bring an animal along — a dog that needs a family – to join you in your search.

It’s a brilliant way to support your mental health. Consider the scientific evidence:

  1. Even moderate levels of exercise, such as walking for 20 to 30 minutes a day, can boost your mood if you have depression.
  2. Being around animals is good for everyone, but especially for depressed and anxious people.
  3. The mental health benefits of giving back are renowned. Research shows that volunteering helps people feel more connected.
  4. “Green therapy,” also referred to as “ecotherapy” or nature therapy, can have a profound impact on well-being, and can help prevent depression. In fact, a recent study finds that walking in a natural setting for 90 minutes decreases activity in an area of the brain linked to the risk of mental illness.
  5. We all need to play! What does play do for the brain? Well, a lot, says author and psychiatrist Dr. Stuart Brown. In his book Play, Dr. Brown, who has spent his career studying the power of play in people ranging from prisoners to artists to Nobel Prize winners, argues that play is an essential part of being human. “Scientists now realize how profound is the biological process of play ... shaping the brain, increasing intelligence and adaptability, empathy and socialization. Play is the heart of creativity,” Brown writes.

In fact, all of these behaviors line up beautifully with positive psychologist Martin Seligman’s formula for authentic happiness. His five elements of PERMA —positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment — can all be enjoyed in the pooch and Pokémon experience. Perhaps the capture of pocket monsters is a little low on the “accomplishment” scale, but surely it qualifies (and a home run if the dog is adopted).

So, add a dog to the “Pokémon Go” experience and you’re covering all the bases. You’re playing. You’re in the company of a dog. You’re exercising in the wide open spaces while volunteering your time for the betterment of your community and animal brethren. What could be better?

The Muncie Animal Shelter posted this very idea on Facebook, asking: “Trying to Hatch an Egg or Catch Rare Pokémon? Come down to the Muncie Animal Shelter to walk one of our dogs while you get your steps in!

“Just come to the front desk and say you are here for the Pokémon dogs!”

Discarded pets, of course, were never the target beneficiaries of Pokémon Go. Dogs were not on the minds of the game’s creators at all, except perhaps the elusive Arcanine. But battling depression in human gamers was never the plan, either.

“The developers behind Pokémon Go didn’t mean to create a mental health gaming app,” psychologist and author John M. Grobol wrote on PsychCentral. “But they've done so, and the effects seem to be largely positive.”

The Twittersphere is replete with people raving about the app.

Jesseanne Pope, Pokemon Go PlayerJesseanne Pope‏@yourboy_jesse

#PokemonGo has already been a better treatment for my depression than anything my doctor prescribed or therapist recommended.

Jimmy Wong, Pokemon Go PlayerJimmy Wong

I don't care if #PokemonGO is dead in 2 weeks- the phenomena of all these people interacting in today's society is incredible and uplifting.

David, Pokemon Go PlayerHiRez David‏@uglycatlady

Real talk - as someone with anxiety/depression, the fact that I've spent most of this weekend outside with friends is unreal. #PokemonGo

Make no mistake. Major depression is a serious illness that every year affects nearly 16 million people in the U.S. Anyone suffering from symptoms of the disorder should not hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional for help. Talk therapy and medication are very effective in treating the disorder. But things you can do for yourself, such as exercising and getting out in nature, are solid, complementary treatments.

If your local animal shelter isn’t participating in the Pokémon Go phenomenon, you can get most of these same benefits by bringing your own dog (or borrowing your neighbor’s) out on your trek. Dogs help break the ice in any social setting and can help even the most anxious Pokémon trainers meet new people. A recent study proves this so-called “social catalyst effect.” In a survey of more than 2,000 adults across the United Kingdom, 46% said that being out with a dog is one of the easiest ways to make friends, and 29% of dog owners said they had met lifelong friends while walking their dogs.

Yet another benefit. So, for your mental well-being, get out of the house and take a dog on a Pokémon hunt. Nothing could be better for your mental well-being.

What’s that, Lassie? What is it, girl? A Pokestop, just up ahead? Let’s go …

By Laura Nott

Posted on July 18th, 2016

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