Gaming addiction: it's real

Worried about how much time your child or teen is spending playing computer games? The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently listed gaming addiction as a mental health condition but what does that mean for young children and adolescents? Bupa Psychologist Chanel Nesci provides some helpful advice for parents.

Gaming addiction now recognised by the WHO

The WHO recently announced that 'gaming disorder' will appear in an updated version of the International Classification of Diseases.

In the updated version of the classification, the disorder is described as;

"A pattern of gaming behaviour characterised by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities. The behaviour pattern is of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning"

Computer game addiction or just a keen interest?

There are key differences between an enthusiastic interest in video or computer games and an emerging disorder - addiction is considered an impulsive engagement in behaviour and it can have physical or psychological effects on someone’s health.

Addiction is often associated with drug taking, gambling and drinking alcohol and is often characterised in circumstances where people begin to experience negative and detrimental effects from their behaviours, “but struggle to disengage from the activity that may be causing them harm”.

Bupa Senior Advisor, Mental Health and Wellbeing and registered Psychologist, Chanel Nesci said as with any addiction, it is important for all of us to acknowledge any activity that could have the potential to affect our ability to function or cause distress.

“Gaming is a popular activity amongst children and young people and it can be concerning for parents, regardless of whether it is affecting their child’s ability to function in their day to day life. This includes school, work attendance and performance, or participating in other interests.

“However, the ability to clearly distinguish between an enthusiastic interest in gaming and an emerging “gaming disorder” is important in order to reduce fear in parents and prevent tension and relationship difficulties,” adds Ms Nesci.

What to do if you're worried about gaming addiction

Ms Nesci explains that labelling any behaviours as a disorder without the advice of a professional could have a negative impact on an individual and society.

“It is also important to gain professional advice as to how parents are best to intervene, to ensure that other mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression are not overlooked, due to similarities in presenting symptoms,” Ms Nesci said.

With the growth in popularity of computer games like Fortnite Battle Royale, parents can help in playing a role to ensure a child’s physical and psychological health by keeping communication lines open.

“Parents can assist by referring their children to a specialised help line or trained professional to increase awareness around how to navigate these complex situations. and support their children to ensure positive health outcomes are achieved,” adds Ms Nesci.

Bupa has recently partnered with Kids Helpline to sponsor the Kids Helpline @ School Wellbeing program, free counsellor-led sessions delivered in the classroom to primary school students around the country.

Kids Helpline’s latest report shows more tweens are contacting the free hotline than ever, on major issues including anxiety, online addiction, self-harm, eating disorders and thoughts of suicide.

Kids Helpline is Australia’s only free, private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service specifically for children and young people aged 5 to 25 years. Kids Helpline counsellors can be reached for free on 1800 55 1800 or online at www.kidshelpline.com.au