The popularity of online gaming is on the rise in Australia, and around the world.
Played solo or interactively with friends or strangers (such as in massively multiplayer online role-playing games, or MMORPG’s) these virtual universes are all-absorbing, time-consuming and potentially damaging to one’s mental health.
Virtual world experiences of gaming, like any pastime, allows us to forget about the hassles and pressure of life. Gaming can also provoke positive feelings within us and it may even fill the need for social connection - albeit virtually. It sounds like fun for those who manage to regulate their usage to enjoy a healthy amount of time spent gaming. But for those who are finding that they are slipping further into virtual reality, and away from their actual reality, the game can start to become scary, dark and isolating.
But when does a pastime, become life passing you by?
Gaming by nature is a highly immersive experience with fast changing derivatives. Gaming is also designed to be addictive, to keep players engaged and immersed as long as possible. There’s always a new challenge, goal or something else that emerges to keep us on the hook. Psychologist at South Pacific Private, Jane O’Keefe says there is an upward trend towards people having trouble regulating their online activities. In fact, around the world, it’s estimated that around 1-2% of the population may struggle with problematic gaming behaviour. In some Asian countries, the rates of gaming disorder among the population are reported to be even higher, at a staggeringly high 10-15%.
Due to the addictive pattern of behaviours present in people with problematic gaming behaviour, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently classified gaming as a disorder. Consequently, Gaming Disorder was added to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) in January 2022.
Gaming Disorder is diagnosed if the person has been impacted or struggling with the following symptoms for 12 months or more. The pattern or behaviour of gaming may be continuous or episodic and recurrent behaviour.
How gaming addiction can impact your mental health
Common to all addictions (both process and substance) is the psychological distress caused by the addiction. This is what often brings people to treatment. Addictions impact people’s motivation and mood and can include depression, feelings of remorse, guilt or shame. Left untreated these feelings can get worse over time as the addiction progresses. The person may use more of the substance / process to avoid these feelings.
Feelings of guilt may arise you’re neglecting other important activities at the expense of the time spent on gaming. Mental preoccupation pre or post gaming (if excessive) can also constitute a problem. For instance, if you spend your time obsessing about your next game, you have less focus for other activities at hand that require attention.
It’s clear to see how this can take a heavy toll on relationships, study or work. As the obsession for gaming increases you’ll likely have less desire to participate in social activities, meeting friends, playing sport or hobbies and isolating at home may become common behaviour.
So how do you know when your pastime has become a problem?
Gaming Disorder is a painful and isolating process addiction. It impacts our ability for healthy cognitive function, promotes social disconnection and can lead to anxiety and depression if it does unrecognised and untreated. You may have problematic gaming behaviour if:
- You have tried, and failed to cut down on the hours spent gaming, multiple times.
- You have regularly played longer than initially planned, at the expense of sleeping, eating meals or have put off using the toilet to keep playing
- You have begun to withdraw and isolate from friends and family, and your gaming is at the centre of any conflict with them
- You have skipped school or work to continue gaming and your performance and productivity is suffering
- You are experiencing significant psychological distress, and your physical health is suffering; for example, having trouble sleeping or weight gain/loss
- You have begun to struggle with gambling, and are experiencing large financial losses
While gaming can start out as a fun, sociable and pleasurable activity, there are real, serious risks of significant psychological harm if used in excessive amounts for excessive periods of time.
How to recognise you have a problem, and get help
- Consider the type of relationship you have with gaming and develop a healthy awareness of how you’re using your time.
- Try to limit your game play time. Make time offline for your friends, your favourite sports or other activities you enjoy.
- Be honest with yourself if you’re worried or struggling to moderate your time spent gaming.
- If your gaming activity has stopped being an enjoyable pastime that simply allows you space to reset so you can get back to your other life activities, responsibilities and real-world social connections, then consider getting help.
- Read the eSafety Commissioner’s guide to staying safe when gaming
Not all gaming behaviour is unhealthy, even at rather high levels of use. However, when it becomes instinctive or difficult to stop, when it occupies your thoughts or when you begin to experience mounting negative consequences or impacts on relationships with family and friends, it’s probably time to reach out for help.
At South Pacific Private, we treat problematic process or behavioural addictions such as Gaming Disorder with a range of effective treatment options that promote adaptive coping strategies.
Our holistic treatment pathways support you to deal with the consequences of addictive online gaming behaviour as well as addressing the underlying issues.
Phone 1800 063 332 to find out how we can support you or a loved one.
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