How 'Pokémon Go' Is Improving Mental Health

Pokémon masters-in-training will do what it takes to catch 'em all. F. J. CARNEROS/

It wasn't all that long ago that "Pokémon Go" was unceremoniously dropped into the hands of the smartphone-wielding masses, and players have already managed to troll Westboro Baptist Church, get robbed at gunpoint and even stumble across a dead body. The response to the augmented reality game has been explosive — not unlike the initial release of "Pokémon Red and Blue" in the late 1990s.

But perhaps the most groundbreaking part of this phenomenon is the staggering number of people venturing outdoors. Some self-proclaimed nerds are working muscles that haven't been worked in years. Gizmodo perfectly encapsulates this sentiment in the giggle-worthy story, Sore Legs Become Pandemic As Pokémon Go Players Accidentally Get Exercise.

And while the physical effects of putting one foot in front of the other for an hour or more are a no-brainer, there's also a whole new group of people discovering the mental and emotional comfort of spending time in nature.

The game's lauded mental health benefits are merely anecdotal, but statements like the one above should come as no surprise.

The act of experiencing nature is widely touted for its inherent healing properties. In fact, a leisurely stroll along a forested path can go a long way toward improving your outlook on life.

One avid Pokémon trainer, Emily Crowthorn, says the hit augmented reality game has been nothing short of a life-changer. The 24-year-old artist based in Danville, Pennsylvania, has been grappling with debilitating panic attacks that have forced her to stay confined to her home for extended periods of time. It wasn't until she started playing "Pokémon Go" that she was finally able to step outside and not feel a sense of panic wash over her.

"It's been very therapeutic," she tells MNN. "It feels good to have something worth getting out of bed for."

In the few days since she's downloaded the game, Crowthorn has logged 16 miles of walking while playing the game — a distance that has not only netted her dozens of pokemon, but also a staggering amount of physical exercise.

"My muscles ache a bit from using them, but it's a good ache," she explains. "I feel a lot of pride in myself overall."

Blastoise, Pidgey and a Zubat.
Blastoise, Pidgey and a Zubat. Kaela Dwyer/Emily Crowthorn/Neil Fitzgerald

In addition to the physical and mental health benefits of being active in the great outdoors, "Pokémon Go" is also a great way for players to hang out with friends or meet new people. That's because the game isn't just about which gym you've conquered or what rare pokémon you've caught; it's also about the interpersonal connections you're making in the process.

It's remarkably easy to spot another player, and it's not uncommon to find multiple people crowding around pokéstops and gyms, like this one in New York City's Central Park.

"Everyone I talk to is friendly and is open to chatting," Crowthorn explains. "I've reconnected with old friends, chatted with strangers and even made new Facebook friends that I've been actively messaging and making plans to see again. As someone who has pretty much been a hermit, this is more positive socialization I've had in months!"

So the next time you're feeling down, keep in mind that improving your mood may only be a pokéball toss away. (Just don't forget the sunscreen!)