Playing mahjong can reduce depression, a new study shows

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The tile-based game that is popular throughout the world especially among the Chinese, mahjong, is often seen as a game for the elderly. However, playing it not only good for socializing with others but also reducing depression, a new study shows.

Just in case if you are not familiar with mahjong, it is a strategy game with the goal of getting all of 14 tiles into four sets; a set of three identical tiles or a set of three consecutive numbers in the same suit (characters, bamboos or circles) and a pair of two identical tiles.

According to the new study published in the Social Science & Medicine journal, playing mahjong can actually reduce depression among the elderly, specifically the middle-aged and the older folks.

Credit: Wikimedia

In a study where data of over 11,000 Chinese residents aged 45 and above is used, the researchers from the University of Georgia found a link between playing mahjong and reduced rates of depression.

Associate professor of health policy at the University of Georgia, and the study’s co-author, Adam Chen, and his team looked at residents who showed symptoms of depression and the frequency of them participating in social activities like visiting friends, playing sports, volunteering and playing mahjong.

“Our paper provides evidence on the association between social participation and mental health in the context of a developing country (China),” Chen said in an interview with Science Daily.

In their study, Chen discovered that the residents who engaged in more social activities like playing mahjong had better mental health.

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The team also found that residents who resided in urban areas were less likely to have symptoms of depression compared to rural folks.

Chen was surprised to find this discovery as he believed that rural residents would enjoy a more close-knit and relationships within the communities as opposed to their urban counterparts.

However, as more and more people moved out of rural areas into urban neighbourhoods, Chen suggested that this could have weakened the ties between the rural residents.

Moreover, playing mahjong is no longer just a game for these rural folks as it has become a way for gambling.

“What is more surprising is that mahjong playing does not associate with better mental health among rural elderly respondents. One hypothesis is that Mahjong playing tends to be more competitive and at times become a means of gambling in rural China,” Chen said.

“Older Asian Americans have a much higher proportion of suicidal thoughts than whites and African Americans.”

“Improving social participation among older Asian Americans may help to address this burden to the U.S. population health that has not received due attention.”

Credit: Public Domain Pictures

Hence, Chen and his team hope for their study to help improve other people’s mental health especially those who are older and find benefits in engaging in social activities more.

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