Illustration: Soham Sen | ThePrint
Illustration: Soham Sen | ThePrint
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Bengaluru: Locking down the country may have proved effective in controlling the spread of coronavirus, but mental health specialists are saying the lockdown has led to more cases of “device or gaming addiction”.

Doctors at one of India’s premier mental health institutions, the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS) in Bengaluru, said they are seeing a sharp spike in gadget addiction among patients.

The Services for Healthy Use of Technology (SHUT) clinic at NIMHANS specialises in dealing with the hazards of excessive use of technology.

Dr Manoj Sharma, clinical psychologist who runs the clinic, said, “The addiction levels have gone up by 30 per cent.”


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Lockdown wears off treatment

Dr Sharma, who has treated more than 300 patients through the clinic set up in 2014, said the impact of being cooped at home with not too many activities has resulted in some patients regressing.

“Several of my patients who had shown significant changes after slowly weaning them off gadgets, have used the lockdown to go right back to where they started. Many do not want to be counselled over phone and anxious parents have been calling me to find a solution to control their (children’s) behaviour,” said Sharma.

Most of Sharma’s patients largely fall in the age group of 16-20 years, and are hooked to pornography or games such as PUBG, FIFA and Counter-Strike.

If it’s not gaming or porn, it’s social media and watching movies/TV series/video content or a combination of all that people have been getting addicted to as they wait out the pandemic in their homes.


Also read: Deep breaths and counselling: How doctors are treating India’s ‘first Netflix addict’


Dealing with addiction

Among the cases is a 15-year-old who, the doctor said, had started gaming at the age of 11. Sharma said the teen’s parents had been pretty submissive to their child’s demands, which has negatively impacted the parent-child relationship.

“He (the teen) was so preoccupied with gaming that it began affecting his academics and physical activities. (The) worried parents forced him into rehabilitation, (and) this worsened his relationship with his parents. He would spend close to six-eight hours gaming,” Dr Sharma explained.

“Soon after the lockdown (began), (the teen) was forced to return home as the clinic had to be closed. The patient now has become quite aggressive towards his parents and exhibits negative emotions as well,” the doctor said.

In another case, a 16-year-old became addicted to the PUBG game, and was spending upto seven hours a day on it.

Dr Shailaja Shastri, a Bengaluru-based child psychologist who works with several city schools, said while there has been an increased engagement with gadgets during the lockdown, there needs to be a check on what it’s being used for.

“To call it an addiction, there are a few parameters. Whether it is mindless viewing, is the usage of the gadget purely for recreation and non-stop? As a parent, I need to watch out for this. If fulfils these parameters, it is a cause of concern. Parents should also work towards regulating it by setting up a routine,” Shastri said.


Also read: Video gamers have the last laugh as e-sports industry booms during Covid-19 lockdown


Healing through the telephone

SHUT clinic addresses such cases on a regular basis.

According to Sharma, since the lockdown limits patients’ access to the clinic, they contact him over mail or phone to seek counselling.

“Normally, we would counsel eight to nine children a week who were addicted to gaming and gadgets. But during the lockdown, the numbers have increased from 10-12 cases a week. There has also been a marked increase of telephonic sessions, which was not the case earlier,” Sharma explained.

However, there are also many cases where the patient is reluctant to be counselled. For such cases, Dr Sharma advises parents to set strict time limits on their children’s access to gadgets.

“I have received calls from the family to say that he has been spending nine to ten hours playing the game. While we do try to counsel over phone, many do not like that. So we advise family members to control the amount of time the gadget is given to the patient, involve them in indoor games and also encourage them to practise yoga and relaxation techniques,” Sharma said.


Also read: PUBG — where Indians are going to game, release anger, and even find love


Psychological gratification

Tech addicts, if not gaming, gravitate towards online platforms like Netflix and YouTube. And the trouble isn’t just with teenagers or young adults only. Sharma said there has been a marked increase in the addiction among adults also — nearly 15 per cent of patients at the SHUT clinic are between 30-40 years of age and are addicted to gaming and porn.

Sharma said this kind of addiction is characteristically similar to alcoholism. While there may not be physical withdrawal symptoms, it is the psychological cost of the addiction that is alarming, and sometimes even proves to be fatal.

“Every time they play a game, their brain triggers the release of a hormone called dopamine, which makes them feel pleasure/happiness. So they go back to the same activity again and again to find gratification. It reaches the point they become completely reliant on the game or website. If you try to get them away from it, they become aggressive and, in extreme cases, suicidal,” said Sharma.

The cases they largely see at SHUT are related to gaming, parental distress, pornography, couple distress, managing body pain due to excessive use of gadgets and distracting children from technology.

Sharma said he counsels about five adult patients a week, up from two before the lockdown.


Also read: Does watching porn make us better lovers or shrink our brain?


 

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  1. In the main residence of the President of Belarus, which is situated on Karl Marx St. in the city of Minsk, there is a fifth floor that is a “presidential” one. The President had set aside for himself a whole floor to work on. Except for the presidential cabinet, all the other rooms on that floor are empty, although they are beautifully furnished and, for many years, the administrative workers are perfectly cleaning up those empty rooms.

    This is a matter of principle for Lukashenko, because he thinks that nobody should work on the same highest floor (or level) as the President. There is only one exception to that rule and for only one man in the country. For many years, Vladimir Makei, who was formerly Lukashenko’s top aide and now is the chief of the Administration of the President, is working on the same floor with the President.

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