Games to Play With Mental Illness Patients


People who suffer from a mental illness--such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia--often have difficulty thinking clearly, concentrating, remembering, organizing and paying attention. These effects of mental illness are known as cognitive dysfunction and can affect a patient's ability to live independently and stay treatment compliant. Patients who participate in cognitive remediation activities show significant improvement. Games that target cognition, social interaction and physical exercise can help patients with mental illness.

Problem-Solving Games

Games that require problem-solving skills can improve critical thinking. Computer-based games that require the player to solve a mystery or puzzle are engaging and cognitively challenging. One study examined the effects of patients with schizophrenia playing "Where in the U.S. is Carmen Sandiego?" The study took place over five weeks and included bi-weekly sessions of playing the game. At the end of the study patients had improved problem solving skills. These benefits persisted after the end of the study.

Memory Games

Games that focus on memory can help improve cognition in patients with mental illness. Memory games can be verbal games played together which require the players to remember words in order. A favorite memory game for some begins with one person saying, "I'm going to Paris and taking," then they pick an item starting with an "A." The next person repeats the phrase and the first item, then adds an item starting with a "B." As each person adds items alphabetically the game becomes more challenging. Card games like Go Fish or even electronic games like Simon can also improve memory.

Physical Games

Games requiring physical exercise such as soccer, basketball, baseball, bowling and tennis can benefit patients with mental illness. Physical exercise can lessen symptoms of depression and help patients cope, according to Dr. Ken Duckworth, the medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Patients enrolled in a program of soccer therapy improved in areas of socialization, concentration and confidence building.

Social Games

Games that require social interaction can improve a patient's social cognition. Role-playing, charades, Pictionary and other group games help teach appropriate interaction, teamwork and cooperation. These games also help break down stigma for patients with mental illness as others find enjoyment with their interaction.