Teenagers who are addicted to gaming are having to travel abroad for treatment due to a lack of support in England and Wales, an investigation has shown.
The World Health Organization (WHO) classed gaming addiction as a mental health disorder in May, however, the NHS still does not treat it.
This is said to be forcing adolescent addicts to travel to the Netherlands for Europe’s only rehabilitation centre for child gamers.
The centre, called Yes We Can, has treated 55 young sufferers so far this year, of which six were from the UK.
Teenagers who are addicted to gaming are being forced to travel abroad for treatment due to a lack of support in England and Wales, an investigation has shown (stock)
Gaming is listed in the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD), which is used by health providers as a guideline for diagnosing patients.
To be diagnosed, a person must play video games so much it ‘takes precedence over other life interests’.
A probe by The Guardian revealed Yes We Can treated 90 young people for gaming addiction in 2018; 60 more than the 30 patients it saw in 2016.
Its founder Jan Willem Poot, who is a former addict, claims the centre is experiencing a 20-to-30 per cent increase in patients every year, with cases also becoming more extreme.
‘In the beginning it was eight-to-10 hours of playing but at this moment we have got kids who game 18-19 hours a day,’ Mr Poot said.
‘They sometimes go weeks without showers and are not eating.’
Private centres in the UK have also seen a rise in the number of gaming addicts being admitted.
The UK Addiction Treatment Centres (Ukat) reported a 37 per cent increase between 2017 and 2018 across its seven English clinics.
This year, the centres have averaged around two gaming addicts a month, it added.
HOW DOES ‘WHO’ CLASSIFY INTERNET GAMING AS A MENTAL HEALTH DISORDER?
The World Health Organisation has classified playing video games on the internet as an official mental health disorder.
‘Gaming disorder’ is defined as ‘a pattern of gaming behaviour characterised 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.’
To be diagnosed with gaming disorder, the individual must:
(1) Experience significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning
(2) Have experienced this impairment for at least 12 months
WHO advises gamers to be mindful of how much time they spend playing, especially if it is to the exclusion of other daily activities.
They should also be alert to changes in their physical or psychological health and social functioning which could be attributed to gaming.
Henrietta Bowden-Jones, director of the Centre for Internet Disorders, claims a lack of accurate, nationwide surveys means the true prevalence of the addiction is unclear.
Eytan Alexander, the managing director of Ukat, believes children are more affected than adults but the number who ‘play in bed on their phones’ is unclear.
The Centre for Internet Disorders was established by Central and North West London NHS foundation trust, and is due to open in October.
It already has a waiting list of around 45 people, Ms Bowden-Jones said.
Mr Poot blames the complexity of modern games for the rise in addicts, with nobody being ‘dependent’ on ‘Tetris or Super Mario 20 years ago’.
Jeff van Reenen, an addiction treatment programme manager at the Priory hospital, claims gaming often ‘co-presents’ with other addictive behaviours, such as a dependency on porn or sex.
He adds a lack of NHS funding into treatment means many cannot afford to get help.
Patients having to go abroad for treatment demonstrates the issue is ‘rife and endemic’, Mr van Reenen added.
Gaming disorder falls under the WHO’s list of ‘mental, behavioral or neurodevelopmental disorders’ and closely mirrors the language used by the WHO to describe ‘gambling disorder.’
It is characterised by a ‘pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior (“digital gaming” or “video-gaming”), which may be online (i.e., over the internet) or offline’.
A person who suffers from gaming disorder may have trouble controlling how often they play video games and how long each session lasts, as well as quitting a game.
Those with gaming disorder also give increasing priority to video games ‘over other life interests and daily activities’, as well as a ‘continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurence of negative consequences.’
In most cases, a person is diagnosed with gaming disorder after showing symptoms for at least 12 months, according to the WHO.
Warning signs include playing video games for up to 20 hours a day without eating or sleeping, as well as skipping school or work, according to Shekhar Saxena, director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the WHO.
HOW DO YOU STOP YOUR CHILD GAMING?
According to Dr Joanne Orlando, a Technology and Learning researcher from Western Sydney University there are three key ways to stop your child gaming.
1. Encourage a blend of physical activity and indoor activity from when your child is young. It’s also important to model this behaviour yourself.
2. Spend time talking with your child and sometimes playing games with them online. Do not set up an ‘us vs them’ attitude. This strategy allows you to understand your child as a technology user, and to make more informed decisions regarding their technology use.
3. Use a range of resources to help you understand kids gaming. Beware of sensationalist media headlines that aim to shock you, and instead head for a range of trustworthy sources supported by credible experts and bodies.