World Health Organisation(WHO) : ‘Video games may cause mental illness’

Excessive playing of video games—online or offline—may be considered a mental health disorder by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

This comes after the proposed draft of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) included “Gaming Disorder,” on the list of mental health conditions that will be published in a report in May this year.

Playing video games has for long been heavily criticised by psychiatrists and certain child rights groups elsewhere in the world. Here in Tanzania, the practice came under scrutiny some months ago when parents appealed for government intervention in curbing it.

Over nine months ago, The Citizen reported a story, “When video games addiction interferes with school,” which detailed an incident where police officers stormed a gaming centre in Dar es Salaam and found children aged below 15 playing a variety of games, including video gaming.

This happened after parents in the city raised concerns to Kinondoni district commissioner Ali Hapi that their children were getting obsessed with playing games, and that it was affecting their school performance.

News that WHO now wants to classify “video gaming” as a mental health disorder may have come as relief for the parents/guardians who are irked by the practice in Tanzania.

When the WHO publishes the ICD-11 in May and classifies gaming as a mental illness, it means that doctors and other health specialists will be able to make an official diagnosis in people who have the obsession for gaming.

In the draft of the report, WHO says, “Gaming Disorder is characterised by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour (‘digital gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’), which may be online (i.e., over the internet) or offline, manifested by: 1) impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, and context).”

Mr Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for the WHO, said the new ICD-11 entry on gaming disorder “includes only a clinical description and not prevention and treatment options.”

Tanzanians may have to wait longer before the new development is incorporated in the local guidelines for the treatment of mental illnesses.

However, this will be the first time that the list has included an entry on gaming, placing it in the same category as disorders related to drugs, alcohol and gambling.

Around the country, there is a growing youthful population with the rapidly advancing digital culture that includes mobile phone gaming.

The existing version of the ICD was endorsed by the World Health Assembly in May 1990 and currently is used by more than 100 countries around the world.

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