Despite having rejected previous attempts to have smartphone and Internet addiction accepted, the WHO will officially recognize obsessive gaming disorders as a mental health condition, New Scientist reports.
The new International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), the WHO’s official diagnostic manual, will be published in 2018, having last been updated in 1990, so this new addition is quite significant.
“Health professionals need to recognise that gaming disorder may have serious health consequences,” Vladimir Poznyak at the WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse told New Scientist.
Of course, most people who indulge in a spot of Super Mario Odyssey or Zelda aren’t addicted, so the criteria for diagnosis of the disorder has been carefully considered.
According to a current draft, the criteria include making gaming a priority “to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests”, and continuing this despite the risk of it being detrimental to your health – such as lack of sleep and sustenance. However, this behavior must be observed for at least a year before diagnosis can be confirmed.
According to Poznyak, the WHO has been considering this inclusion for the best part of a decade, and now, after consultations with mental health experts, the organization is satisfied it meets the criteria of a disorder. When asked why other technology-based addictions were not being included Poznyak said: “There is simply a lack of evidence that these are real disorders.”
Of course, there are plenty of arguments against this new inclusion, including the fear of unnecessarily attaching a stigma to people and trivializing what people consider “real” conditions.
Psychiatrist Allen Frances, former chair of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has previously said that the DSM, amassed by experts to help define and classify mental disorders, refused to include Internet addiction as a condition for fear of mislabelling and overtreating millions of people who just really really like their smartphones.
As he points out, “billions of people around the world are hooked on caffeine for fun or better functioning, but only rarely does this cause more trouble than its worth.”
However, it was also the DSM’s reclassification of gambling disorder from a compulsion to an addiction in 2013 that legitimized non-substance addiction as a diagnostic category – one that is very hard to define as it is based mostly on symptoms – opening up the possibility that almost anything could be considered pathological.
Indeed, multiple studies have been carried out asking whether or not a wide variety of subjects from shopping to sugar to suntanning to love can be officially described as addictive. Whether they too will one day be recognized as official conditions remains to be seen.