WHO to classify ‘gaming disorder’ as mental health condition

Nearly 7% of population that was studied exhibited symptoms of depression and anxiety, say experts

December 28, 2017 11:05 pm | Updated 11:05 pm IST - Bengaluru

With more and more youngsters getting hooked on video games, both online and offline, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is set to classify gaming disorder as a mental health condition next year.

In the beta draft of its forthcoming 11th International Classification of Diseases, WHO has included gaming disorder in its list of mental health conditions. Mental health experts and psychiatrists said this is the need of the hour as nearly 7% of population studied for gaming and internet addiction exhibited symptoms of depression and anxiety, and somatisation, including behavioural changes and sleep disturbances.

“Although gaming disorder is affecting a small population now, it is likely to be a major mental health problem in the coming years. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of Mental Disorders -V, a diagnostic bible for mental health professionals published by the American Psychiatric Association, has already classified gaming disorder as a mental health condition,” Prasad Rao G., who recently stepped down as president of Indian Psychiatric Society, told The Hindu .

Welcoming WHO’s move, Dr. Rao said Internet and gaming addiction had become an emerging psychological malady. “Especially, in the wake of Blue Whale and other such dangerous games, there is a need for parents to monitor their child’s activities at least till the age of 18,” he said.

Manoj Kumar Sharma, additional professor, SHUT (Service for Healthy use of Technology) clinic in NIMHANS, said: “Most cases we have studied exhibited psychosocial and behavioural changes affecting their daily activities. Such people not only develop physical health problems (disturbance in sleep patten and eating habits) but also develop psychological problems that has become a major concern for their family members.”

In his paper titled ‘Video game addiction: Impact on teenagers’ lifestyle’ published in the National Medical Journal of India in 2015, Dr. Sharma said that despite the known harmful effects of addiction to video games, research in this area is scarce. “Internet addiction began to arouse the interest of mental health researchers and clinicians in the mid to late 1990s soon after Internet became widely available in many countries. Internet addiction has since come to be labelled, defined in several ways, and promoted for inclusion in the DSM,” he said in the paper.

Pointing out that Internet addiction also has an effect on social performance and lifestyle, Dr. Sharma said: “Addictive use of Internet has an adverse effect in the form of irregular dietary habits and physical problems. It is also associated with insomnia, sleep apnea and nightmares. Among adults, it leads one to disregard crucial daily responsibilities such as work, academic, family, or social obligations.” “Although this addiction affects children and adults, not many adults come forward to seek help,” he added.

Burden on caregivers too

In another study titled “Video game addiction and lifestyle changes: Implications for caregivers burden”, Manoj Kumar Sharma, additional professor, SHUT clinic in NIMHANS, has concluded that technology use is not only manifesting as addictive among users but also has an impact on the psychological well-being of caregivers.

The study was published in The Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine in 2016.

“Caregivers have expressed concern about the manifestations of excessive use of video game on users in the form of truancy from school to play, falling academic grades, decreased social activities; irritability if unable to play longer or advised to stop; increase in expression of aggression; and wrist pain and neck pain. It also leads to presence of psychiatric distress among caregivers and loss of pleasurable activities. Any illness has an impact on the individual as well as those around in terms of physical, emotional, academic, cognitive, distress, and social dysfunctions,” the study pointed out.

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