A significant number of research and experimentation efforts are currently underway to identify the effective ways of leveraging advanced gaming technologies towards the development of innovative training and education solutions for the mental health domain. This chapter identifies mental health training and education needs of modern “at risk” populations and discusses the potential of serious games as instructional interventions for addressing those needs. Special attention is paid to the importance of prevention training and ways to facilitate prevention by using serious games. Within the chapter, the authors cite a number of specific mental health-related serious game efforts and discuss design considerations for effective serious games.
Modern Mental Health Training And Education Needs
The modern mental health training and education needs are very diverse, ranging from addiction-based disorders (e.g. alcoholism, gambling, and substance abuse) to psychological stress disorders, acute and post-traumatic, resulting from military and non-military stress-inducing events, such as combat stress, domestic violence, traumatic loss, sexual assault, economic hardship, etc. Although virtually everyone can be considered at risk of any of the above-mentioned stress inducers, the current composition of “at risk” populations for mental health disorders is largely represented by the military personnel and their families. Research has shown that deployment stressors and exposure to combat result in considerable risks of mental health problems, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), major depression, substance abuse, impairment in social functioning and in the ability to work, and the increased use of health care services.
According to a report issued by the Department of Defense Task Force on Mental Health in June 2007, the mental healthcare system of the U.S. armed forces is currently unable to meet the mental health needs of its service members. The task force concluded that military health system lacks the resources and fully trained staff to meet the mental healthcare needs for troops and their families. Social stigma represents the primary barrier to care with the current psychological screening procedures still unable to mitigate the bias against seeking mental health services. Family members have poor access to psychological health training and education due to insufficient availability of relevant training programs and general lack of coordination between military organizations dealing with mental health care of military personnel. Too much emphasis is currently placed on short-term treatment models, while not enough support is being provided for prevention purposes and long-term management of chronic disorders. The key recommendation made by the task force calls the Department of Defense to build a “culture of support for psychological health” by updating research and providing access to effective training and education about mental health to military personnel and their families throughout the entire military life continuum.