NHS to launch first child gaming addiction clinic in the UK

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The NHS has announced that it will be launching a gaming addiction clinic in September, with children as young as 12 among the potential patients.  According to The Telegraph, some of the players due to commence treatment sessions at the clinic are said to be so severely addicted to gaming, such that “it has kept them off school, damaged their family relationships or isolated them from friends.”

What is gaming addiction?

In January 2018, gaming addiction was officially classified as a disorder by the World Health Organisation (WHO).  According to the WHO, a gaming disorder (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) is described as a pattern of recurrent gaming behaviour that is severe enough to take “precedence over other life interests”, exhibited over a period of at least 12 months.

The NHS-funded clinic, which aims to recruit a total 15 patients for the pilot group, currently has eight potential patients aged 12 to 20.

The clinic’s founder and psychiatrist, Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, is a spokesman on addiction for the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and a member of the WHO’s expert panel. Dr Bowen-Jones said: “We’ll record in depth everything we can in order to develop the largest database in the country to better understand the illness.

“They are different to gamblers or alcoholics. It’s a younger generation. As it doesn’t involve substances, the neurological processes will be different.”

The clinic’s leading team are proposing to develop a six-point classification system to help assess the addictive risk of certain games such as Fortnite or Grand Theft Auto.  The six-point system would enable clinicians and parents to rate and label games that are compulsive, have the propensity to violence, the capacity to disrupt sleep and show addictive reward mechanism.  Games rated six would be classed as posing the most severe risk.

“We will be treating people without understanding what is wrong with the products. That is why we need different categories so we can focus on those that are potentially the most harmful,” Dr Bowen-Jones said. “This is the perfect time for experts and the industry to come together.”

The clinic’s pilot programme comes at a time when The Telegraph is campaigning for a statutory duty of care  on gaming and social media firms to protect children from online harms.

With the summer holidays well under way, most parents will be scratching heads and constantly checking their bank balance as they try to come up with different ways to keep their children entertained enough to stay off video games – even while on holiday.

Nevertheless, the opening of the first gaming addiction clinic in the UK shows the seriousness of the matter and will no doubt leave some parents wondering if their child is a gaming addict?  Below are six questions set by Mark Griffiths, professor of behavioural addiction at Nottingham Trent University. The questions are designed to help parents evaluate an indication of a gaming disorder in their child:

  • Is your child totally preoccupied with gaming and playing for long periods (four or more hours) every day?
  • Does your child become irritable, restless, anxious and moody when they are not gaming?
  • Is your child’s education suffering because of their gaming?
  • Has your child lost interest in all other leisure activities except gaming?
  • Has your child lied to your or other family members about the amount of time they spend gaming?
  • Does your child use gaming as a way of changing their mood to make themselves feel better?

If you have answered yes to all of the six questions, this may be an indication of a gaming disorder, and it may be worthwhile to seek professional advice.