Loss of appetite, erratic sleep pattern and asocial behaviour are among the early signs which indicate that a person has become addicted to gaming, mental health experts said on Thursday and cautioned that children are also falling prey to it.
Their comments assume significance as a 16-year-old boy in Lucknow allegedly shot dead his mother as she stopped him from playing the online game PUBG and kept her body hidden in the house for two days, police said on Wednesday.
Mental health experts of leading hospitals in the country concurred that the "high" a gaming addict, young or old, gets from continuously playing video games is akin to the "rush" experienced by a person who resorts to substance abuse.
Dr Samir Parikh, director, mental health & behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare, told PTI that "children as young as 12 or 13 are getting addicted to gaming, and though it's largely young male population falling prey to it, many young girls are also now getting addicted". He said gaming addiction is one of the disorders defined by the ICD-11 classification of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Gaming disorder is defined in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behaviour ('digital-gaming' or 'video-gaming') characterised by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences, according to WHO website.
Parikh said the Lucknow incident should be treated as an "extreme case" in the context of gaming addiction, as there could be other factors or trigger points as well. The boy, who was addicted to the online game, was enraged after his mother asked him to stop playing and fatally shot her with his father's licensed gun, police said.
The minor shot his mother on Saturday using his father's registered firearm, and hid the body inside a room for two days before informing his father, they said. "A gaming addict, especially teenagers, will show red flags, and parents and teachers in schools need to watch out. Parents should monitor how much screen time a child is spending in a day, as also need to watch out for other behavioural patterns," he said.
If a person has become addicted, early signs would be loss of appetite, erratic sleep pattern and asocial behaviours, like not mingling with friends, staying aloof, or maybe poor academic performance, and crankiness, the doctor said.
"I feel, gaming industry should come forward, and create a sort of an alert mechanism to begin with, to make sure, it's users are not crossing the limit, in the name of entertainment," he added.
Dr Puja Pushkarna, clinical psychologist, Apollo Hospitals, Ahmedabad, agreed with Parikh, and suggested that counselling sessions should be held in schools for children and their parents.
"A person, adult or teenage, could be addicted to anything, cigarette, tobacco, mobile phone, social media, and video games. It is worrying that young girls are also getting addicted to gaming.
"People want to live in a fantasy world to avoid hard realities and feel like a king in a virtual world, which affects their mental health," she told PTI. Pushkarna said the advent of social media has made things even more difficult as "addictive content" is constantly being bombarded, which can affect a person subliminally or subconsciously.
"Even social media addiction affects mental health, and early signs need to be kept in mind by parents. And, if family intervention doesn't work then doctors should be consulted," she added.
(With PTI inputs)