The topic of mental health can be a tough subject to address. That is why I put together a mental health and wellness unit for my teen. Since our family focuses on using board games for school, I had to hunt one down. It was a rough search. Board games are notoriously bad at representing mental health. The subject is most typically featured in horror themed games. Anyone having lived through the Covid-19 global pandemic will know that mental health is a major issue facing a large portion of the population.
I was recommended the game Anxiety by David Libby by one of our Twitter followers. This is exactly the kind of game I was looking for, about anxiety but not a treatment for anxiety or crude representation of those with mental illness. So, I ordered a copy and saw that Libby has also made a game about depression. I ordered that too. The price was so low, at just $11 a pop, that getting both was not a big deal.
I played Anxiety first. It was a dark night (2am) in February and I was struggling with a sleepless night. I was dealing with some major sleep anxiety and needed something to distract me. Books were not cutting it. I learned how to play anxiety. The game is solo which made it perfect since I was the only one up. The rules are short and I was playing in no time. Here is the game's description:
Anxiety is a beast. Try to survive and thrive while enduring breathing difficulties, sleeplessness, and intense worry and dread. Try to get through the entire deck without your Panic Level reaching 20 to win the game! This is a solitaire card game that takes 15-30 minutes to play. 2-5 player cooperative rules are available.
The first play was stressful. I lost the game by having a "panic attack" but in real life I ended the game feeling quite calm. As you play, you accumulate more symptoms of anxiety, shortness of breath, sleeplessness, and worry. The whole game is a balance between gaining and relieving symptoms. Just thinking through this balance and the real life symptoms I was experiencing helped me calm down enough to go right to sleep after the game.
Playing the game multiplayer is much more fun. I like the way the game scales up. It feels a little bit different at each player count. Anxiety also opens the door for discussion about real life anxiety, the symptoms, and how to manage and reduce those symptoms. The one qualm I have with the game is that there are not specific actions as to why you are removing symptom cards. It would be nice to have the cards share practical actions to reduce stressors. like removing two worry cards because you spent time escaping into a good book/movie or remove a shortness of breath card because you practiced deep breathing exercises. I love the game as is, but this would be an excellent touch.
Next up is Depression. The game plays a bit differently than Anxiety. You are trying to do enough activities in your day to function while managing your depression. This one is a hand management game. Here is the description:
Play through a day of life for someone suffering from depression. Work to complete a series of increasingly difficult tasks, all while fighting the lack of motivation that comes with depression.
Having suffered with both anxiety and depression, I can say that these games are incredibly thematic. I found them easy to use to discuss mental health with the Kiddo. Symptoms of anxiety really do build up and lead to panic. Depression really does make it hard to trudge through the basic activities of daily life. Both are a challenge to manage and the games make the discussion easier to have and explain. As games, Anxiety is my favorite of the two. The game play is quick and easy. It will probably stay in our collection for a long time. Depression is still a good game though more complicated.
You can find the games at Drive through cards. Check out our playthrough below if you want to see us play first hand and hear some feedback from the whole family!