Driving for Change

Depression affects around 6% of Australians annually resulting in enormous social and economic costs, estimated to account for up to six million days of lost productivity, or approximately $12.6 billion. Many men with depression feel ashamed. They blame themselves for their depression, seeing it as a failure to cope with normal problems of life. As a result, they withdraw from their social networks and do not seek the help they need – factors which contribute to ongoing symptoms.

This project is developing and testing an online video game that embeds evidence-based strategies for reducing depression into game-play and uses the online component of the game to increase social connectedness and help-seeking via the networked society.

The game targets men at high risk of mental health problems who may not be in contact with health services. This will be achieved by targeting a male-dominated occupational group who are vulnerable to mental health problems – those in the taxi industry.

Taxi drivers have many risk factors for poor mental health, including high stress, unregulated competitors, abuse, threats to personal safety, long and irregular working hours, unstable income, sedentary lifestyle, changing regulations and lack of bargaining power. In addition, two-thirds of drivers are born overseas, with many being recent arrivals. Migration contributes to a lack of supportive social networks among these men. 

Despite their high health needs, studies indicate that taxi drivers have very low levels of help-seeking. The initial design will target taxi drivers, but it is envisaged that the prototype will be able to be adapted to other high-risk groups.

There is enormous, but as yet unrealised, therapeutic potential in combining video games with the communicative aspect of the internet. Video games, which frequently incorporate rehearsal and feedback, are conducive environments for the type of cognitive-social learning used in psychological treatments for depression. In video games, players can do things they cannot do in the real world. This allows players to practice new ways of responding to a situation, and to do this repeatedly. Practice and repetition are key factors in changing patterns of thinking and can be effective in reducing depressive symptoms.

Social interaction is integral to online gaming. Multiplayer functionality allows players to connect, interact and learn from each other. Not only must players communicate to accomplish the game's objectives, content analysis of social interactions within online gaming spaces shows that emotional communication is more prevalent than task-oriented conversations. Co-players are seen as valued sources of offline advice and up to 75% of game players report having 'good friends' in their gaming communities. The project will leverage the connectivity between players to promote supportive connections and encourage help-seeking when it is needed.

Research Team


Seed Funding 2015

'How a mobile app will drive better health for cabbies' by Andrew Trounson, Pursuit, 8 February 2017.

The Driving to Health Project by Dr Sandra Davidson, VicTaxi Magazine, 17 January 2017.

Trauma and psychological distress amongst taxi drivers, research poster, designed June 2016.

Presented at the Primary Health Care Research Conference, June 2016.