Compulsive Video Gaming a Mental Health Condition: WHO

Compulsive video gaming is now classified as a mental health condition, the World Health Organization says.

It said including "Gaming Disorder" in its disease classification manual will "serve a public health purpose for countries to be better prepared to identify this issue," the Associated Press reported.

The U.N. health agency's decision was based on scientific evidence, as well as the "the need and the demand for treatment in many parts of the world," according to Dr. Shekhar Saxena, director of WHO's department for mental health.

However, some experts said the WHO's decision risks stigmatizing young video gamers.

Only a minority of video game players have the disorder and the new classification might trigger unnecessary concern among parents, according to Dr. Joan Harvey, a spokeswoman for the British Psychological Society.

"People need to understand this doesn't mean every child who spends hours in their room playing games is an addict, otherwise medics are going to be flooded with requests for help," she told the AP.

Other experts supported the WHO's new classification, explaining that many video game addicts are teens or young adults who don't seek help on their own.

"We come across parents who are distraught, not only because they're seeing their child drop out of school, but because they're seeing an entire family structure fall apart," Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, a spokeswoman for behavioral addictions at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the U.K., told the AP.

Gaming addiction is usually best treated with psychological therapies but some medicines might also work, according to Bowden-Jones, who was not involved in the WHO's decision.

Gaming Disorder is not classified as a mental health problem by the American Psychiatric Association. It's "a condition warranting more clinical research and experience before it might be considered for inclusion" in its own diagnostic manual, the association said in a previous statement, the AP reported.

The new WHO classification will help legitimize the condition and improve treatment, according to Dr. Mark Griffiths, a professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University in the U.K. who has been researching video gaming disorder for 30 years.

"Video gaming is like a non-financial kind of gambling from a psychological point of view," he told the AP. "Gamblers use money as a way of keeping score whereas gamers use points."

The percentage of video gamers with a compulsive problem is likely much less than 1 percent, and those people are likely to have other underlying problems, like depression, bipolar disorder or autism, according to Griffiths.

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