Do Fidget Spinners Help Decrease Mental Health Symptoms?

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If you have school-age children, you’ve definitely seen them… Fidget Spinners.

Fidget spinners are small, fan-like toys that can be spun on a person’s fingers. They are touted by some manufacturing companies as something that can alleviate symptoms of all sorts of mental health conditions, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and many others. Others, especially teachers and parents, find them irritating and distracting; some teachers have even banned them from their classrooms. So, who is right? Are fidget spinners therapeutically effective for managing mental health symptoms and thereby helpful in the classroom, or are they just a toy that needs to be played with at home?

The research from mental health professionals suggests the. latter; currently there is no evidence that fidget spinners themselves can be proven to help a person cope with their mental health symptoms. The act of fidgeting, or conducting “small movements with your body”, is a behavior that teachers and mental health professionals have been trying to understand and manage for decades. Throughout this time, research has shown that the act of fidgeting or moving your body can be a tool to help regulate someone’s focus. Some experts in this area suggest providing children with silent, malleable items like stress balls or “squishes” can allow a child to expel otherwise outwardly distracting stimulation urges and energy.  Professionals who work with children with ADHD have long found that providing therapeutically appropriate “fidgets” can help them to get out some of their excess energy while remaining attended to what is being discussed in class.

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A fidget spinner, however, should not be categorized as a “fidget”, professionals assert, stating that its name and their claims are misguided. For starters, once the fidget spinner begins spinning, it no longer requires any physical manipulation by the person spinning, which alleviates the benefits of “fidgeting” behavior expelling the necessary energy to keep them attuned and focused. The spinning is also visually distracting to them and those around them, thus making it difficult for everyone to stay visually focused as well. They definitely can succeed in being a distraction from negative thoughts/feelings, however, and some studies have shown that they may help with some aspects of fine motor development. But, mental health professionals suggest that marketing them as a symptom-eradicating object is a problematic claim. Mental health conditions are complex and so is their treatment; they require a combination of insight building by the person affected as well as the ability for them to begin making behavioral changes to help improve their functioning. While distraction via a fidget spinner or any other “fidget” toy or device may be a way to divert attention away from symptoms, the real cure for mental illness involves developing skills to address and conquer their presented symptoms.

Getting support from a mental health professional can help a person develop insight into how their symptoms affect their everyday life. Treatment can also help them develop strategies to help them not just avoid behaviors that contribute to their conditions, but to begin to initiate replacement behaviors that can help them to improve their lives as a whole. It’s important to remember that anyone selling a quick fix product to “cure” any condition is something that should be considered skeptically, and the fidget spinner appears to be no exception. So, consider it what it is… a stimulating and entertaining toy that can be used as a fun distraction, when appropriate.

Dr. Shannon McHugh is a Licensed Clinical and Forensic Psychologist in Los Angeles, California. She specializes in assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults who have developmental and social delays, behavioral difficulties, and those who have experienced traumatic events