Gaming addiction classified as mental health condition by World Health Organisation

Addiction is severe enough to impact personal, social and occupational aspects of one's life, according to the WHO

The WHO is set to classify addiction to gaming as a mental health disorder
The WHO is set to classify addiction to gaming as a mental health disorder

Few might consider playing too many video games a mental health condition, however the World Health Organization - the United Nation agency dealing with international public health - is set to recognize gaming disorder as such, according to a beta draft of the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD) published last week.

Speaking to MaltaToday, clinical psychologist and psychotherapist Edward Curmi said the decision was a confirmation of observations made about how people interact with various aspects of technology. Like social media, he said, gaming gives users a rush of the pleasure chemical dopamine, which if not controlled can lead to addiction.

“You get a surge of happiness, but it is a short-term type of happiness,” he said, adding that parents concerned with their children’s gaming was not a rare occurrence.

According to the draft ICD, gaming disorder is a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior that results in gamers not being able to control the frequency and intensity of gaming. Furthermore, those suffering from the disorder will prioritize gaming over other life interests and daily activities and exhibit a continuation or escalation of gaming despite concerns of negative consequences.

“The behavior pattern is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning,” reads the ICD definition, adding that the pattern of behavior may be continuous or episodic and recurrent.

In cases where symptoms are not severe, the behavior must have been evident over a period of at least 12 months for a diagnosis to be assigned.

Curmi, who has authored two self-help books, stressed that parents needed to understand the need to set boundaries when it came to their children’s use of games, more so given that kids’ interaction with technology starts at earlier age these days. “There need to be clear parameters.”

Asked whether the classification could have parents needlessly concerned, Curmi explained that gaming was not always negative, and in some cases, could prove have a negative effect, especially in children that struggled to make friends or those with an autism spectrum disorder, for example.

He warned however that one needed to judge each case on its own merits, insisting that the bottom line needed to be whether or not an individual was showing signs of dependency

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