Children addicted to gaming will be offered NHS treatment

The NHS is launching a specialist clinic for children addicted to gaming [Photo: Getty]
The NHS is launching a specialist clinic for children addicted to gaming [Photo: Getty]

The NHS is opening the country’s first specialist clinic to treat children and young adults who are addicted to gaming.

As part of the new service, specialist healthcare professionals can accept referrals for young people aged between 13 and 25 who are seriously addicted to playing computer games.

The clinic will be part of the National Centre for Behavioural Addictions in London and patients referred will be able to attend in person or have an online consultation using Skype.

The aim of the service, which is part of the NHS-funded Centre for Internet and Gaming Disorders, is to address the “emerging problem” of gaming addiction.

In recent years concern has been raised about the heavy use of computer games by children and young people and the potential knock-on effects this could be having on their physical and mental health.

"Health needs are constantly changing, which is why the NHS must never stand still," Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS said.

"This new service is a response to an emerging problem, part of the increasing pressures that children and young people are exposed to these days."

The chief executive went on to say that the NHS "should not be left to pick up the pieces" when young people suffer from gambling or video game addictions.

"Gambling and internet firms have a responsibility to their users as well as their shareholders and should do their utmost to prevent rather than cash in on obsessive or harmful behaviour," he continued.

READ MORE: What every parent needs to know about 'gaming disorder'

In June 2018, gaming disorder was officially recognised by World Health Organisation (WHO) as a mental health disorder.

The WHO's International Classification of Diseases (ICD), a reference bible of recognised and diagnosable diseases, describes addiction to digital and video gaming as "a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour" that becomes so extensive it "takes precedence over other life interests".

Other symptoms include lack of control when gaming, prioritising gaming over other activities and continuing to play video games even when it causes negative consequences.

"Studies suggest that gaming disorder affects only a small proportion of people who engage in digital - or video-gaming activities," WHO states.

"However, people who partake in gaming should be alert to the amount of time they spend on gaming activities, particularly when it is to the exclusion of other daily activities, as well as to any changes in their physical or psychological health and social functioning that could be attributed to their pattern of gaming behaviour."

READ MORE: Rise in children biting caused by screen time and parents having less time to read, nursery workers say

The clinic comes after the WHO classified gaming addiction as a mental health issue [Photo: Getty]
The clinic comes after the WHO classified gaming addiction as a mental health issue [Photo: Getty]

Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, director of the national centre for internet and gaming addictions, said: “The centre for gaming and internet addictions is the first and only specialist service on the NHS.

“I am delighted to be leading it and grateful to the NHS for recognising the problem, which will ultimately see us helping thousands of children and young people.”

Dr Bowden-Jones, the Royal College of Psychiatrists' spokeswoman on behavioural addictions, said families could be left feeling "utterly helpless" when children and young people were hooked on gaming.

"Gaming disorder is not a mental illness to be taken lightly: we are talking about instances where someone may spend up to 12 hours a day playing computer games and can end up becoming socially isolated," she said.

READ MORE: How to tell if your child’s screen time is a problem

Commenting on the new service Claire Murdoch, NHS national mental health director, said: "Compulsive gaming and social media and internet addiction is a problem that is not going to go away when they play such a key part in modern life.

“The NHS is rising to the challenge - as it always does - with these new, innovative services, but we can’t be expected to pick up the pieces, which is why tech giants need to recognise the impact that products which encourage repeated and persistent use have on young people and start taking their responsibilities seriously too.”

The topic of child gamers has been on the radar for a while. Earlier this year parents were urged to take up online gaming in order to better understand the benefits and risks of the activity for their children.

Online safety group, Internet Matters, said that despite more than three-quarters of children going online to play video games, most parents do not feel confident in dealing with issues around the subject.

It is now encouraging parents to play online with their children in order to improve their understanding of the environment.