The Grapevine

Is Playing Video Games Too Much A Mental Health Condition?

The World Health Organization (WHO) categorized “gaming disorder” as a mental health condition in the latest draft of the ICD-11, their disease classification manual. 

Whether the subject is smartphones or television, developing a dependence on our gadgets should obviously not be encouraged. But the classification was met with mixed responses by experts for a number of reasons.

The decision is an influential one as the ICD is used by international doctors, researchers, and healthcare companies. Not only will professionals and systems be more informed about the disorder but the people who suffer from it may be more likely to get help, said Dr. Vladimir Poznyak from the department of mental health and substance abuse at WHO.

However, the condition is not as prevalent as one might expect. As per estimations by WHO, only 2 to 3 percent of video gamers may actually qualify to be diagnosed with the disorder. Some experts have suggested the number may actually be less than 1 percent.

“Millions of gamers around the world, even when it comes to the intense gaming, would never qualify as people suffering from gaming disorder,” Poznyak said.

He added it can only be diagnosed by a health professional and will have to fit certain criteria such as impaired behavior lasting for at least 12 months or a significant strain on personal and professional functioning due to gaming.

Ever since the plan to formalize the disorder was announced, academics and health professionals have expressed support as well as a fair amount of skepticism.

"Video gaming is like a non-financial kind of gambling from a psychological point of view," said Dr. Mark Griffiths, a professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University, United Kingdom.

He welcomed the classification as it could help legitimize the problem and create effective strategies for treatment.

Psychologist Anthony Bean, who is the executive director at The Telos Project in Texas, believed it was premature to label compulsive gaming as a disorder. 

“I'm a clinician and a researcher, so I see people who play video games and believe themselves to be on the lines of addicted,” he said.

However, he believed the gaming was not a condition itself but a “coping mechanism,” to deal with an underlying problem like depression or anxiety. 

“When anxiety and depression is dealt with, the gaming goes down significantly,” Bean added.

In 2017, numerous experts published an open debate paper discussing the WHO classification, concluding it will bring more harm than good. The authors pointed out research on problematic gaming is inadequate while the criteria for diagnosis was said to be too similar to substance use disorders.

The new ICD will be presented at the World Health Assembly in May 2019. If adopted successfully by the WHO member states, it will come into effect in 2022.