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Is Gaming Affecting Your Mental Health

It seems the quest for a higher score could be hurting our mental health.

This is particularly the case for those who are spending endless hours gaming each week, to the detriment of other areas of their life. This year, problems related to excessive use of video games will receive their own disorder with The World Health Organisation (WHO) planning to include Gaming Disorder in their next released diagnostic manual.

This won’t come as a surprise to many parents who are struggling to tear their children away from video games each day. Or to those whose partners don’t even look up from their screens when they walk through the door. It also doesn’t come as a surprise to me, when working with young adults who are anxious about meeting people or finding work because they have spent most of their young life inside playing games.

The fact that WHO is classifying the problems associated with the over usage of gaming as significant enough to be a disorder, shows the seriousness of the matter. Some countries have already identified gaming as a major public health issue, with some going as far as introducing laws to prohibit their citizens’ usage of games after midnight.

Now let’s be clear. Just because someone plays video games, doesn’t mean they have a disorder. What the new classification is saying is that there is high concern for behaviours seen in many ‘gamers’ that model other addictive behaviours. It’s more than a hobby when the amount of hours spent attached to a gaming console is more than what is spent on other important components of one’s life.

So what should we be concerned about in our loved ones who won’t budge from the PlayStation? Signs may be that they have impaired control over their gaming, like how long they play for, how often, how much and they may have problems terminating the game after a certain amount of time. Other worrisome behaviours are when increased priority is given to gaming, as well as it being perceived as more important than family, social, education or other important areas of functioning.

The thing is, it’s not just the video games per se that are problematic. It’s what kids are not doing when they’re on them. They are not interacting with people face to face, they are not doing homework, they are not exercising, they are not getting enough sleep and they are not having quiet time to relax.

Fast forward a few years and what you see is adults who are not exercising, not interacting with people face to face, anxious when having to interact with people, sleeping in the day, having difficulty finding work and the list goes on. We need to remember that in raising a child, we are raising an adult. And if our children are spending an excessive amount of time on video games now, then it’s likely they will be spending an excessive amount of time on them as adults too. Which is not healthy. Over use of video games is a fine recipe for not only physical health problems, but also mental health problems.

Given the new gaming disorder classification, hopefully there is a move to focus on treating problematic gaming and the effect it’s having on people. But what can we do in our daily lives in the meantime to prevent an addiction that can become so hard to control? After all, it’s always better to get in early.

For adults, ask yourself whether your gaming behaviours are affecting the basic areas of your life. Like work, eating, sleeping, socialising or your education. Is gaming preoccupying you? If so, then consciously working on the areas of your life outside of gaming is a good place to start. I’m not saying get rid of gaming completely, but there needs to be a balance in your life.

For parents with children who are showing signs of addiction, the earlier you teach them life balance, the better. Involve yourself in their lives, take them out of the house, enrol them in sport, organise them to play with friends face-to-face and take them to your work with you.

Life isn’t a game, so they need to learn about the world outside of one.The key to digital media use and good mental health is limited use, not excessive use.

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