Is Gaming Disorder really a mental health condition?

It’s official – gaming is a recognised mental health disorder. At least so says the World Health Organisation (WHO) who announced in June this year that Gaming Disorder would be included in its next edition of the ICD (the International Classification of Diseases). The ICD-11 will include gaming disorder as an addiction and in the same category as drug abuse and gambling disorder. But what exactly is gaming disorder and how can it be distinguished from a harmless form of leisure?

The WHO has defined gaming disorder as a pattern of gaming behaviour where ‘increasing priority is given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities’. The behaviour pattern ‘must be of a sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months’.

Some of the behaviour which may indicate that someone is suffering from gaming disorder includes:

  • Changes in sleeping and eating behaviours to accommodate the gaming habit
  • A decline in personal hygiene
  • Neglect of family and personal relationships to the point where these might break down
  • Increased withdrawal from everyday life and social activities in favour of gaming activities
  • Negative effects on the person’s daily life such as work or education

These types of behaviour can impact on both physical and mental health. Some can ‘forget’ to eat, withdraw from relationships, find themselves in conflict with other family members, or it can cause a decline in performance at work or at school.

The classification of gaming disorder as an officially recognised mental health disorder has however caused some controversy in both gaming and mental health circles. Some have pointed out that if gaming disorder is a mental health condition, then why not give the same classification to other activities centred around screens, such as mobile phone usage, internet addiction or social media addiction – in effect creating a ‘screen disorder’ classification.

Others are of the view that the classification of gaming disorder has come as the result of political pressure from some countries, particularly in East Asia, where ‘internet de-addiction camps’ and bans on under 16s partaking in gaming after midnight are in place.

Many argue that excessive gaming activity may just be an indication of some other underlying mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety, and emphasise that it is important for mental health professionals not to be distracted and end up only treating the gaming habit and not the underlying condition causing the addiction.

It is thought that only a small percentage of the population may be suffering from gaming disorder – in the region of 0.3% to 1% of the worldwide population. Nevertheless, the effects of this addiction, as with any addiction can be devastating for the sufferer and for their loved ones.

Dr Winbow and Prof Hale are both very experienced in diagnosing and treating a variety of mental health conditions including addictions, depression and anxiety. To make an appointment with them, please contact our office in Leigh in Kent.



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