Referrals to UK gaming addiction clinic triple in year of lockdowns

21st June, 2021 3:00 pm

Sharp rise attributed to young people spending more time at home during Covid pandemic.

The number of children and young adults entering treatment for gaming addictions and disorders tripled over the last year, and experts believe that the pandemic and lockdowns played a key role in the increase.

The UK’s first specialist clinic to treat children and young adults who are addicted to playing video games opened in 2019, a year after the World Health Organization recognised “gaming disorder” as a medical condition.

Figures obtained by the Guardian via freedom of information requests show that 56 people entered treatment at the clinic between January and May this year, compared with 17 in the same period last year.

The Nightingale hospital, a private hospital that specialises in treating mental health disorders, also saw a rise in referrals and individuals seeking treatment for gaming and technology addictions. The hospital said that between March to June and July to September 2020 the number of inquiries received regarding technology addiction doubled, with the majority of them from parents seeking support for their children. In 2021 the hospital has recorded a fourfold increase in inquiries.

Patrick Maxwell, the lead addictions therapist for Nightingale hospital, said the pandemic had had a significant impact, and that in younger children especially, technology addiction presented more in the form of gaming.

“I think that with the pandemic and its effects on home schooling, it has definitely given children more exposure to screen time that we’ve ever had before,” he said. “Because they were at home, parents’ awareness of how much screen time their child was using increased, so I think that provoked anxiety within the parents through their observations of their children.”

Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, the lead on gaming addictions at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said the closure of schools during lockdown had had a significant impact on young people with gaming disorder.

“Many of our young patients reported [that] the loss of structure caused them to game for longer hours and more compulsively, to the detriment of other interests and activities including family time. For several of our patients, the escalation of gaming caused a shift in the family dynamics, with attempts by parents to block the gaming causing the children to respond with anger and at times with physical aggression.

“The last year has brought far more patients into treatment than we had expected and we now need to review how we will support both parents and children in such large numbers.”

Dr Linda Papadopolous, an ambassador for the internet safety not-for-profit organisation Internet Matters, said the data was worrying. “Over the past year, young people have relied heavily on their devices to socialise and for their downtime, and while there have been many positives, parents may be worried about the amount of time their children spend online and the risks associated with it,” she said.

“While the data is worrying, there are some key signs parents should look out for to help their children find a healthy balance before gaming turns into a problem. Some children might begin to show a lack of interest in their usual hobbies, spend less time with real-life friends, and their schoolwork might start to suffer. Complaining of headaches and problems with sleep can also be symptoms.”

She added that it was important for parents to speak with children about gaming addiction from an early age “so they can develop their own healthy boundaries”.

Source: The Guardian

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