Internalizing mental health problems (including loneliness, depression and anxiety) affect alarming numbers of young people, leading to substantial disease burden worldwide. Developmental theories suggest maladaptive stress responding is at the core of rapidly rising prevalence rates, with evidence showing that repeated or chronic exposure to stress can initiate biological, cognitive and behavioural processes that increase risk for both the onset and maintenance of mental health problems. Our research aims to transform young people’s mental health by developing and testing a video game intervention for resilient stress responding.
In particular, we aim to capitalize on the moderating role of social support on stress responding. Research has emphasised that social support buffers the effects of adaptive and maladaptive stress on health. Importantly, interdependent target mechanisms through which social support, stress responding and mental health can be linked include perceiving, receiving and providing support. Whereas multiple studies have confirmed both receiving and providing support attenuate stress responding, perceiving support (i.e., one’s appraisal of the adequacy and availability of their support network) is expected to be most crucial of all. This because the Social Baseline Theory posits that humans are adapted to social environments and therefore our baseline or default context is one where social support is expected to be proximal. Perceptions of support falling short of baselines induces a downward shift in the perception of personal bioenergetic resources. As a result, stress events are more readily appraised as threats and accompanied by maladaptive physiological and behavioural responding. In contrast, adequate levels of perceived support increases one’s perceived capabilities to cope with stress events, and promotes resilient responding.
Moreover, besides building up social support, we belief the actual practice of facing in-game stressors head on and learning to overcome them may feed into young people’s growth mindset (i.e., the core belief that personal attributes are not fixed, but instead can develop through dedication, flexible strategies, and help of others). In a similar vein to social support, studies suggest benefits of having a growth mindset, suggesting among others that it can motivate young people to embrace and master challenging situations.
In sum, our research aims to harness the important mental health implications of both social support and mindsets, to develop a novel, virtual intervention benefit stress responding.