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Saturday 10 October 2009

Feeling down? Get with the SPARX programme!

Posted in: Community
By Matt Akersten - 20th July 2009


We all feel bad sometimes, but for some same-sex attracted young people it's hard to find a way through the fog.

You're not alone. One in six New Zealanders have been affected by some sort of depression at least one time in their lives. Lots of people - especially those struggling with coming to terms with their sexuality or gender identity - go through hard times, and they recover.

Unfortunately, few same-sex attracted young people recognise the warning signs of depression, or know where to go for help. So the playful folks at Auckland Uni's Faculty of Medical & Health Sciences have come up with a very 21st century idea to tackle the low times and head toward happiness.

SPARX: The Rainbow Version is a unique interactive computer game which plants the user into an amazing fantasy world with seven levels of adventures - including puzzles and questions which are designed to teach you real life skills you can use to help beat the blues.

"It's based on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, which is a proven method of talk-based therapy for depression," explains Mathijs Lucassen of the SPARX team, who has worked with Rainbow Youth, Out There! and the NZ AIDS Foundation on the project, which is funded by the Ministry of Health.

PUTTING SPARX TO THE TEST had a preview look and good play around with the SPARX Rainbow Version and thought it was a very easy-to-use and compelling game, with cool music and advanced graphics. Like with many games of this adventuring genre, you start by selecting, naming and personalizing your avatar. Then it guides you along with characters chatting, presenting a wide range of types of tasks and activities you complete to advance to the next level. Metaphorical imagery is used to represent the challenges you face in your real life. Troubles are mountains you must climb, and your stronger emotions appear as volcanic eruptions. Along the way, glowing 'Sparx' represent positive ideas which are picked up on, and 'Gnats' are darker thoughts which are battled against. The game has a subtle but inclusive LGBT focus and benefits from familiar New Zealand imagery and real Kiwi voices. It's slick work.

Mathijs says he hopes that people who complete the SPARX programme will end up will the tools they need to change their thoughts, feeling and actions for the better. "Their lives will gradually get better, but as always, if things don't improve, it's important to talk to your guidance councilor or doctor about how you're feeling."

SPARX: The Rainbow Version is now on trial before lots more New Zealanders can experience it. It's time for around 20-30 young Aucklanders to test out the programme. As well as being the first to try it, participants will get shopping vouchers and could even win an iPod for getting involved. So if you're aged 16 to 19, are in the Auckland area and have been feeling down or not at your best for a while, email and the SPARX team will get back to you. You can also find out a bit more about SPARX on the Down and Different website.


The SPARX team's advice for when times are tough:

Have hope. Remind yourself that things will get better. You'll get through it.

Relax. Test out the simple but powerful skill of slow and controlled breathing. It will help you to calm down.

Mind power! Start changing your thoughts. Your feelings will follow.

Many gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and Takataapui young people are healthy, happy and lead full lives.

Change what you think,

Change what you do,

And your feelings will change too.

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Matt Akersten - 20th July 2009