Mahjong Is Strongly Linked to Better Mental Health, Study Finds

Mahjong was first developed during the Qing dynasty in China and has now gained popularity worldwide.
Chris Young

Feeling down, or a little depressed? It turns out that, for many, the traditional Chinese tile-based strategy game, Mahjong, might be the answer.

A new study, carried out by researchers at the University of Georgia found a link between middle-aged and older adults who play the game and reduced rates of depression in China. 

Their study will appear in Social Science & Medicine.


China's mental health problem

Poor mental health is a significant problem in China. In fact, the country's population accounts for 17% of mental health-related disorders worldwide. 

"Global economic and epidemiologic trends have led to significant increases in the burden of mental health among older adults, especially in the low- and middle-income countries," Adam Chen, an associate professor of health policy at UGA's College of Public Health, and the study co-author, said in a press release.

Mental health issues related to isolation and loneliness are particularly on the rise as the number of older adults continues to rise globally.

In China, this is a big issue. That's why Mahjong, a social activity that typically involves 3 to 4 players, plays an important role in mental health.

Strong link to good mental health

Chen and a team of researchers from China's Huazhong University of Science and Technology analyzed survey data — collected from the National China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study — of almost 11,000 residents aged 45 years and older.

The team looked at residents with symptoms of depression and analyzed the frequency with which these people engaged in social activities such as seeing friends, playing mahjong, volunteering, and participating in a sport or social club.

Unsurprisingly, the researchers discovered that participating in a wide variety of social activities frequently was associated with better mental health.

Notably, the least likely of the urban residents to feel depressed were those who regularly played mahjong.

Curiously, the link mainly applies to urban China and isn't as strong in rural areas.

Mahjong Is Strongly Linked to Better Mental Health, Study Finds
Source: iirliinnaa/Pixabay

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

So, if this study is to be taken as a strong indication, mahjong is a great boost for a player's mental health — just don't bet your house on it.

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