NZ computer game can help teenagers treat depression, study finds

by Toby Manhire / 23 April, 2012
Fascinating research attracts plenty of coverage worldwide, but gets mostly ignored at home.


An interactive adventure video game has been found to successfully treat the symptoms of depression. A new study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that the game, Sparx, which stands for Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-factor thoughts, had a successful effect among participants, who were all aged between 12 and 19.

The researchers write in the BMJ:

SPARX, a computerised self help intervention for adolescents with symptoms of depression, is at least as good as treatment as usual in primary healthcare settings in New Zealand and is a potentially useful treatment. It could be used as the first component in a stepped care approach to managing depression in this age group.


Quite a story, which comes with an attention-grabbing headline, so little wonder that it was picked up so widely around the world. It has been reported in more than 100 publications globally – as far and wide as the UK Daily Mail, Time in the US, and the Times of India - since the BMJ report appeared.

But not in New Zealand. With the notable exception of this report on the 3 News website, it’s nowhere to be found. To the best of my knowledge it hasn’t been covered in print, on radio or television in this country. (Simon Collins did cover an earlier Sparx study in a Herald piece in June 2011.)

One of the study’s authors told me via email that the lack of coverage may have something to do with a “muddle” over the local press release. She also said there will be an item on the study in this week’s Our Changing World on RNZ National (9pm Thursday).

The NZ Science Media Centre has this morning posted a summary of the findings, what’s more, so there could yet be headlines in tomorrow’s papers. Hope so.
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