Is WHO’s Diagnosis Legit or Overblown?

When the World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognized gaming disorder as a mental health condition in 2019, the announcement met mixed reactions. So, what does this mean for you and your loved ones, especially when South Africa already grapples with various forms of addiction and mental health challenges?

The Facts and Why You Should Care

The WHO’s definition of gaming disorder includes impaired control over gaming and prioritizing it to the extent that it overshadows other activities and daily responsibilities. A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry supports this, finding that up to 1% of the general population may qualify for a potential diagnosis of internet gaming disorder. But here’s the kicker: the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) states that only one in 10 people with a mental health condition in South Africa receive treatment. You might be asking, “Do we really need another addiction to worry about?”

Gaming Disorder in the South African Context

In South Africa, where accessibility to mental health services is already strained, understanding the complexities of gaming disorder is crucial. In a country where there is only about one psychiatrist per 100,000 people, tackling new forms of addiction might appear daunting. But here’s why you should care: a 2018 study by the University of Pretoria found that students who excessively used their smartphones, including for gaming, had higher levels of anxiety and depression. So, if you or your child spend an unhealthy amount of time on gaming, it’s essential to recognize the signs early on.

The Debate: Legit or Overblown? A Closer Look with Facts

When the World Health Organization added gaming disorder to its International Classification of Diseases in 2019, it set specific criteria for the diagnosis. According to WHO, gaming disorder is characterized by “a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour” that becomes so severe it takes “precedence over other life interests.” This is no small matter; for a diagnosis to be considered, the behavior pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in “significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”

On the other side of the debate, Ars Technica points out that critics, including some clinicians, believe the WHO’s decision might be premature. They argue that the term ‘gaming disorder’ could medicalize behaviors that are better understood as symptoms of underlying conditions like depression or anxiety. Critics also point out that existing studies are inconclusive; not all researchers agree on the scale or seriousness of the problem. Therefore, skeptics worry that by labeling it as a ‘disorder,’ limited healthcare resources might be diverted from treating other forms of addiction, which are more widely recognized and better understood.

So, what does this mean for you and your family in South Africa, a country already battling multiple forms of addiction and with limited mental health services?

Firstly, let’s take the statistics seriously. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) has reported that only one in 10 South Africans with a mental health condition receives the necessary treatment. Adding a new category like gaming disorder to the mix is no trivial decision; it has real implications for resource allocation in a country where mental health resources are stretched thin.

However, disregarding the potential dangers of excessive gaming would also be a grave mistake. For you and your family, this means you must walk a tightrope. You need to be vigilant, aware of the signs that gaming is becoming more than just a hobby. If you notice a decline in performance at school or work, disruptions in sleeping patterns, or a loss of interest in other activities because of excessive gaming, it’s time to consult a healthcare provider.

The debate about whether gaming disorder is ‘legit or overblown’ will undoubtedly continue. But what remains undeniable is the need for balance and moderation. For South Africans dealing with this issue, the debate is less academic and more about daily life. With mental health resources in short supply, making informed choices becomes even more critical. While waiting for the scientific community to reach a consensus, your best strategy is to be proactive, vigilant, and consult professionals when gaming starts to negatively impact your life.

Your Role in a Balanced Lifestyle

While debates continue to swirl, your focus should be on maintaining a balanced lifestyle. If you or your loved ones are already grappling with substance abuse or other forms of addiction, it’s critical to be cautious about introducing another potential trigger into your lives. Open communication is essential. Discuss this topic in your family settings and among your network of support.

In conclusion, gaming disorder’s classification by the WHO may still be up for debate, but the reality is that compulsive behaviors, especially when they affect your daily life, need attention. With mental health resources already stretched thin in South Africa, it’s crucial to take any form of addiction, even newly recognized ones like gaming disorder, seriously. As Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” So, educate yourselves, be mindful, and make informed choices.