By Kayt Sukel
If you’ve been following the blog, you know that May is Mental Health Month—a month- long period of awareness and advocacy with the goal of promoting mental health and well-being (and, consequently, diminishing the stigma surrounding mental health disorders).
The 2017 Mental Health Month theme is Risky Business: and it’s all about educating the public on specific risk factors that may indicate the presence of an underlying mental illness. As it turns out, these six factors may also increase the risk of a mental health issue later on in life, so they do require some attention. And one of these six factors being highlighted is internet and gaming addiction.
What is that, you might ask? Is that even a real condition? After all, it would seem that everyone is a slave to their game console or smart device these days. But Internet/gaming addiction is defined as the excessive or compulsive use of either your computer or video game console—to the point where it may interfere with your job, your family, your friendships, and your overall life.
Technically, Internet/gaming addiction is not classified as a mental health condition, but some studies suggest that as many as 6 percent of Americans may be suffering from it. Jon Belford, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist based in New York City, says excessive use of your iPhone or PS3 can sometimes indicate an existing, underlying mood disorder and even, perhaps, difficulties with impulse control.
“Compulsive use of the Internet is often driven by the release of dopamine and the sense of pleasure that occurs when engaged in online gaming, social media, or simply seeking out products or information online,” he says. “It can become problematic in a number of ways, particularly when these behaviors become one’s primary source of satisfaction and are then used to dissociate from difficult emotions.”
Many people use the Internet to get away from problems in their real life. But such behavior can lead to a vicious cycle. Those hours and hours spent online can disrupt personal relationships and get in the way of school or work performance, which, over time, can negatively impact self-esteem and cause more problems. In fact, he says, by the time most individuals who struggle with Internet/gaming addiction seek treatment, it can often be unclear if mental health issues were the cause or consequence of those behaviors.
It can be a bit tricky to realize that your Internet use or gaming has become an issue. After all, who isn’t connected to the web these days? But MHA suggests you ask yourself the following questions to see if you may have a problem:
Do you feel irritable or anxious if you can’t get online?
Has your Internet use or gaming negatively affected a personal relationship, your job, or your school work?
Do you feel like you have to lie about the amount of time you actually spend online?
Have you had trouble stopping or minimizing your Internet use?
If the answer to any of those is yes, it may be time to seek help. A qualified mental health professional can help you take the right steps if a problem is identified. It isn’t about eliminating the Internet’s use entirely. Again, everything seems to be online these days. It’s more about trying to create the proper boundaries around your use so you can find some balance in life—with friends, family, and your work.
To learn more about Risky Business and Internet/gaming addiction, visit the MHA website where you can download information sheets specifically about Internet/gaming addiction, and what you can do about it.