WHO says ‘gaming disorder’ is a health condition

Children addicted to video games could be suffering from ‘gaming disorder’, a term now officially recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a mental illness. 

This new term is included in the latest version of WHO’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD), which identifies worldwide health trends and statistics around injuries, diseases and causes of death.

Negative impact

It’s an important development in the debate about how much time children and young people should be spending in front of screens. Leading academics have repeatedly highlighted the negative impact of of the excessive use of smartphones, computers, game consoles and television on children’s physical and mental health. Not surprisingly, the gaming industry has defended its conduct, saying that the evidence is not yet proven.

The ICD entry for the illness says that those who suffer have trouble controlling their behaviours around gaming and give it precedence over the rest of their lives. On a practical level, it provides a common language that allows health professionals to share health information globally.

‘Negative consequences’

According to the 11th version of the ICD, ‘gaming disorder is characterised by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour (‘digital gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’), which may be online (i.e., over the internet) or offline, manifested by: 1) impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context); 2) increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and 3) continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences’.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said: “The ICD is a product that WHO is truly proud of. It enables us to understand so much about what makes people get sick and die, and to take action to prevent suffering and save lives.”

Behaviour pattern

WHO guidelines say that for gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of 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.

Its inclusion in the latest ICD follows the development of treatment programmes for people with health conditions identical to those characteristic of gaming disorder in many parts of the world. Part of the section on addictive disorders, gaming disorder’s entry will make health professionals more alert to the risks of development of this disorder and, accordingly, to relevant prevention and treatment measures.

‘Deeply flawed’

The US-based Entertainment Software Association has previously described the new WHO classification as ‘deeply flawed’, and lacking in objective scientific support. Earlier this year, together with more than 30 mental health experts, social scientists and academics, it co-wrote the paper A weak scientific basis for gaming disorder: Let us err on the side of caution, which argued against the WHO’s new classification.

A Q&A factsheet and video on gaming disorder is available on the WHO website.

Author: Simon Weedy

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