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Board Games and your Mental Health

Board Games and your Mental Health
by Peter Fortune on June 11, 2020

Many of us are probably reaching and dusting off those boxes containing Monopoly and Scrabble in a bid to stave off the boredom of being stuck home. Un-Surprisingly board games have found a renaissance over the past number of years with many pubs and cafes having a selection of strange and exotic named boxes. Board game clubs have also seen a resurgence, once the domain of those of us who played dungeons and dragons gamer clubs are experiencing diverse group of people who are seeking out like-minded people to spend a few hours with. While there are the traditional favorites are still going strong there are many games available which have developed a strong following, such as Catan, Carcassone and Pandemic being some of the most popular games at the moment. 

So what have board games got to do with positive mental health? Despite the picture that you are probably conjuring now thanks to television and cinema, playing board games does not (for the most part) devolve into an argument with one family member getting upset and upending the game. In-fact quite the opposite happens. When we get together to paly board games, we reap a number of benefits that we may not be aware of.

Improving cognitive function -

Playing games has been shown to reduce the risk of cognitive decline, through games our brain is active and engaged, one study by the New England Journal of Medicine explored playing games and dementia, their findings showed that people who played board games and kept an active mind reduced the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Improves and promotes healthy Childhood development -

When playing board games, children learn skills that are not learned via screen time. Social and interpersonal skills can be taught and learned that will benefit your child as they grow up. Games can teach social skills such as sharing, taking turns and learning to follow instructions.

Cognitive skills can be greatly improved, including number and pattern recognition, the ability to calculate and estimate. Games can teach children to use logic, maths and develop abstract thinking. Strategy is incorporated into many games and your child will develop analytical thinking through planning moves, thinking ahead and defending against other players actions. All of the described skills  take place in a game of Monopoly or Catan.

Combats Isolation -

Board games are designed to be played by two or more people, the act of coming together as a group to play even a short game has the benefits of building relationships, reducing loneliness and isolation.

Isolation has been shown time and again as a contributing and agitating factor to poor mental health. People with a mental health diagnosis such as anxiety and depression or those who have an atypical neurology such as Autism can find it difficult to interact in unstructured social situations, focus on the activity in the game can allow such people to not focus so much on the interaction and conversation may be easier.  As mentioned, pubs and cafes and many other traditional social outlets are now providing board games.

Bringing families and friends together -

There are literally hundreds of board games designed for families with more being produced every year. Family board games are simple enough for children to understand and adults to remain sufficiently stimulated. The representation of the irate person throwing the board game and leaving the room happens less frequently than you might imagine.

In fact, the board game presents the family with an increasingly rare opportunity for the family to work together. It provides a chance to have meaningful interaction with others, which is proven to be supporting positive mental well-being. It is a common in the world today that a family while physically together in the same room are spending time separate, be it through screen time through their devices or watching TV. The board game gives the opportunity to engage with one another. Either to compete or collaborate, the interaction is beneficial and promotes better mental health. Research has shown that families who engage with other another spending time on enjoyable activities have a better emotional bond, better communication skills and are more resilient to emotionally upsetting situations.

Stress reduction -

Studies note that board games reduce stress, increase relaxation and offer positive mental well-being. Board games give us the opportunity to engage in imagination and detach from the worries and concerns of everyday life, they allow us to enter into the world of play, which we know helps achieve positive mental health. 

Final thought -

Board games are just one great way of stimulating and promoting positive mental health in both adults and children. They offer an affordable way to have hours of fun that can be returned to time and again.

Written by James Byrne of the Rowan Therapy Centre


J,Verghese, R.B. Lipton, M J. Katz, C.B. Hall, C,A. Derby, G Kuslansky, A. F. Ambrose, M Sliwinski, and H, Buschke. (2003) Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly. New England Journal of Medicine.2003; 348:2508-2516 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa022252

Davis-Temple, J., Jung, S., & Sainato, D. M. (2014). Teaching Young Children with Special Needs and Their Peers to Play Board Games: Effects of a Least to Most Prompting Procedure to Increase Independent Performance. Behavior analysis in practice7(1), 21–30.

Nakao M. (2019). Special series on "effects of board games on health education and promotion" board games as a promising tool for health promotion: a review of recent literature. BioPsychoSocial medicine, 13, 5.