What is a gaming disorder?
Did you know? As of January 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO), whose primary goal is to direct and coordinate international health within the United Nations systems, now officially recognizes Gaming as an addictive mental health disorder.
WHO’s official webpage detailing this disorder describes gaming as a disorder “characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.” For an official diagnosis, someone must have severe functional impairment due to this unhealthy gaming behavior for at least 12 months of time.
And, while ‘gaming’ sitting alongside long-standing addictive behaviors like alcoholism, narcotic use, or sexual addiction may read a bit silly to some, WHO’s collaboration with several prolific healthcare providers, researchers, and experts have demonstrated significant consequences of over-gaming during the last four years. WHO’s department of mental health and substance abuse has hosted four meetings between 2014 and now, analyzing the epidemiology, nature, public health implications, clinical cases, health promotion, treatment policies and other relevant important aspects of internet use, computers, smartphones and other communication and gaming platforms that have been on a steady rise during recent years.
So… Do I have a gaming disorder?
According to the WHO, here are six signs of gaming disorder:
For full diagnosis of a gaming disorder, one must have significant impairments in imperative facets of one’s life, including one’s family life, social life, personal life, education and/or work for the last 12 months.
While worried parents might be quick to jump on the “my kid has a gaming disorder!” train, data suggests otherwise. In a 2013 study, researchers found that gaming was most common in males between the ages of 12 and 20 and that, in the United States, only 1 to 2 percent of kids and teens were affected by internet gaming disorder.
"Video game addiction might be a real thing... but it is not the epidemic that some have made it out to be."
The WashingtonPost recently reported on an even more recent article release from the American Journal of Psychiatry. In the study, an analysis of nearly 19,000 internet users from the United States, Canada, Britain, and Germany found that among those who play games, just under 1 in 3 reported at least one symptom of Internet gaming disorder. But even smaller than that, between 0.3 percent and 1.0 percent of the general population “might qualify for a diagnosis of the disorder.” That’s a relatively small number of kids who qualify for the comprehensive criteria. Given the small percentage of individuals affected by this disorder, psychologists Patrick M. Markey and Christopher J. Ferguson who took part in the aforementioned study commented: "video game addiction might be a real thing... but it is not the epidemic that some have made it out to be."
Unfortunately, due to gaming disorder’s recent classification, little headway has been made in developing evidence-based treatments for the addictive diagnosis. “There really hasn’t been a good study of what kind of treatment works,” said Andrew Saxon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle and chair of the APA’s Council on Addiction Psychiatry. “We’re in the realm of semi-experts giving recommendations.”
But we also know that more and more children, as gaming becomes a larger component of our everyday lives, are seeking out psychological intervention for their addictive gaming behaviors. In one 2017 paper by Torres-Rodriguez et al., researchers combined psycho=education, treatment as usual, intrapersonal, interpersonal, family intervention, and the development of a new lifestyle as having “positive and encouraging effects” in treating gaming disorder of those enrolled in the study.
In a world of ever-growing mental health disorders, it can feel like we need to bubble-wrap our children and loved ones from developing conditions that impair their activities of daily living. And, while treatment and diagnostic criteria are still being fleshed out for this relatively new classification, the epidemiology of internet gaming disorder suggests few children are legitimately characterized with the disease.
More than ever, emphasize playing outside, with peers, in nature! Take your child out for a walk around the neighborhood; talk to them about their feelings, wants and desires. Inquire how they’re doing at school, or tell them a story about your life from work. As with most behavior, children learn from modeling. Model what you want to see from your children by introducing them to healthier activities - like walking, seeing nature, or engaging in an artistic outlet that they enjoy.
We live in a technologically-consuming world - there’s no avoiding that. But we can teach our children, friends and close loved ones other behaviors needed to break up the screen-time to optimize health and wellbeing.
Justin writes about ways to optimize your health and well-being by cultivating resiliency and self-compassion through sustainable movement and exercise habits that lift you and those around you up..