SCHOOL children suffering crippling technology addiction would be admitted to a speciality psychiatric unit for help under a radical Australia-first plan.
Victorian kids as young as eight are becoming hooked on computer games and the internet, with some refusing to go to school, suffering anxiety and depression, getting violent and withdrawing socially.
Mental health professionals say the condition, called “pathological internet use’’, is a rising problem, with one describing it as a “ticking time bomb’’ among Australia’s youth.
In extreme examples, teens have spent up to 15 hours a day glued to games like World of Warcraft, only breaking to use the toilet.
The Herald Sun understands Australia’s first dedicated treatment unit is earmarked for Sydney with sufferers to be checked into a youth mental health ward for longer-term stays.
The in-patient clinic would aim to restore sleep patterns, treat underlying mental health issues and encourage healthy digital use.
But as the condition has not been officially classified as a mental disorder, sufferers cannot currently claim treatment on Medicare.
For this to happen, it must be included as a disorder in the psychiatric bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The fifth edition last year identified “internet gaming disorder” as a “condition warranting more clinical research and experience’’.
Child psychiatrist Dr Philip Tam, who specialises in treating internet addiction, is pushing to standardise diagnosis and treatment globally.
He surveyed 400 GPs across Australia last year and found nearly 50 per cent had seen one or more cases.
“We are sitting on a ticking time bomb — a very large portion of the children and teenagers that I see in clinic has an addiction or overuse problem to some extent,’’ said Dr Tam, co-founder of the Network for Internet Investigation and Research Australia.
“But parents tell me they often get turned away from GPs, or mental health professionals.
“It does seem to be an issue that is getting more severe and frequent.’’
Parents allowing computers and video games in children’s bedrooms are one of the biggest problems paving the way for the behaviour, said psychologist Collett Smart.
“Some of my clients I would class as having an addiction, ranging from 11-14,’’ she said.
“They stop sleeping, game through the night, take food into their bedrooms, stop interacting face to face and cease sport or things that they used to enjoy.
“In the extreme, addiction can lead to school refusal.’’
She said children became anxious about attending school and began to slip in their grades, lose friendships and spiral into depression.
“Gaming is the biggest thing they get addicted to, for some it’s social media,’’ she said.
“Parents haven’t set enough boundaries, they’ve allowed technology in bedrooms, some kids are waking up at 2am to play, setting their alarms. They do it so they can play with kids overseas in the gaming community, and so their parents don’t know about.’’
Cyber safety expert Susan McLean welcomed news of the centre, saying she had spoken to parents of an 8-year-old who had punched a wall after being told to turn off an online game.
“I think the vast majority of people don’t understand the serious nature of the problem,’’ she said.
“There have been deaths in Asia linked to gaming.’’
Melbourne psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg treats internet addicts and said they could exhibit the same signs as those with drug or other addictions.
This article first appeared on ‘news.com.au’ on 20 February 2014.