Gaming addiction classified as mental health disorder by WHO

Parents are being advised to limit their children’s screen time. (Shutterstock)
Updated 05 July 2018
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Gaming addiction classified as mental health disorder by WHO

  • Addiction to video games has been recognized by World Health Organization as a mental health disorder
  • The International Classification of Diseases now covers 55,000 injuries, diseases and causes of death

GENEVA: Obsessive video gamers know how to anticipate dangers in virtual worlds. The World Health Organization says they now should be on guard for a danger in the real world: spending too much time playing.
In its latest revision to a disease classification manual, the UN health agency said Monday that compulsively playing video games now qualifies as a mental health condition. The statement confirmed the fears of some parents but led critics to warn that it may risk stigmatizing too many young video players.
WHO said classifying “gaming disorder” as a separate addiction will help governments, families and health care workers be more vigilant and prepared to identify the risks. The agency and other experts were quick to note that cases of the condition are still very rare, with no more than up to 3 percent of all gamers believed to be affected.
Dr. Shekhar Saxena, director of WHO’s department for mental health and substance abuse, said the agency accepted the proposal that gaming disorder should be listed as a new problem based on scientific evidence, in addition to “the need and the demand for treatment in many parts of the world.”
Dr. Joan Harvey, a spokeswoman for the British Psychological Society, warned that the new designation might cause unnecessary concern among parents.
“People need to understand this doesn’t mean every child who spends hours in their room playing games is an addict, otherwise medics are going to be flooded with requests for help,” she said.
Others welcomed WHO’s new classification, saying it was critical to identify people hooked on video games quickly because they are usually teenagers or young adults who don’t seek help themselves.
“We come across parents who are distraught, not only because they’re seeing their child drop out of school, but because they’re seeing an entire family structure fall apart,” said Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, a spokeswoman for behavioral addictions at Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists. She was not connected to WHO’s decision.
Bowden-Jones said gaming addictions were usually best treated with psychological therapies but that some medicines might also work.
The American Psychiatric Association has not yet deemed gaming disorder to be a new mental health problem. In a 2013 statement, the association said it’s “a condition warranting more clinical research and experience before it might be considered for inclusion” in its own diagnostic manual.
The group noted that much of the scientific literature about compulsive gamers is based on evidence from young men in Asia.
“The studies suggest that when these individuals are engrossed in Internet games, certain pathways in their brains are triggered in the same direct and intense way that a drug addict’s brain is affected by a particular substance,” the association said in that statement. “The gaming prompts a neurological response that influences feelings of pleasure and reward, and the result, in the extreme, is manifested as addictive behavior.”
Dr. Mark Griffiths, who has been researching the concept of video gaming disorder for 30 years, said the new classification would help legitimize the problem and strengthen treatment strategies.
“Video gaming is like a non-financial kind of gambling from a psychological point of view,” said Griffiths, a distinguished professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University. “Gamblers use money as a way of keeping score whereas gamers use points.”
He guessed that the percentage of video game players with a compulsive problem was likely to be extremely small — much less than 1 percent — and that many such people would likely have other underlying problems, like depression, bipolar disorder or autism.
WHO’s Saxena, however, estimated that 2 to 3 percent of gamers might be affected.
Griffiths said playing video games, for the vast majority of people, is more about entertainment and novelty, citing the overwhelming popularity of games like “Pokemon Go.”
“You have these short, obsessive bursts and yes, people are playing a lot, but it’s not an addiction,” he said.
Saxena said parents and friends of video game enthusiasts should still be mindful of a potentially harmful problem.
“Be on the lookout,” he said, noting that concerns should be raised if the gaming habit appears to be taking over.
“If (video games) are interfering with the expected functions of the person — whether it is studies, whether it’s socialization, whether it’s work — then you need to be cautious and perhaps seek help,” he said.


Vaccine could virtually eliminate cervical cancer: study

Transmitted sexually, HPV is extremely common and includes more than 100 types of virus, at least 14 of them cancer-causing. (Shutterstock)
Updated 20 February 2019
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Vaccine could virtually eliminate cervical cancer: study

  • Transmitted sexually, HPV is extremely common and includes more than 100 types of virus, at least 14 of them cancer-causing

PARIS: The rapid scale-up of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine could virtually eliminate cervical cancer in a handful of rich countries within three decades, and in most other nations by century’s end, researchers said Wednesday.
Without screening and HPV vaccination, more than 44 million women will likely be diagnosed with the disease over the next 50 years, they reported in The Lancet Oncology, a medical journal.
Two thirds of these cases — and an estimated 15 million deaths — would occur in low- and medium-income countries.
By contrast, the rapid deployment starting in 2020 of screening and vaccination could prevent more than 13 million cervical cancers by mid-century worldwide, and lower the number of cases to below four-per-100,000 women, the study found.
“This is a potential threshold for considering cervical cancer to be eliminated as a major public health problem,” the authors said in a statement.
Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 570,000 new cases worldwide in 2018, making it the fourth most common cancer for women after breast, colon and lung cancer.
The disease claims the lives of more than 300,000 women every year, mostly in lower income nations.
“Despite the enormity of the problem, our findings suggest that global elimination is within reach,” said lead author Karen Canfell, a professor at the Cancer Council New South Wales, in Sydney.
Achieving that goal, however, depends on “both high coverage of HPV vaccination and cervical screening,” she added.
Transmitted sexually, HPV is extremely common and includes more than 100 types of virus, at least 14 of them cancer-causing.
The viruses have also been linked to cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina and penis.
It takes 15 to 20 years for cervical cancer to develop in women with normal immune systems. If the immune system is weak or compromised — by HIV infection, for example — the cancer can develop far more quickly.
Clinical trials have shown that HPV vaccines are safe and effective against the two HPV strains — types 16 and 18 — responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancer cases.
The study’s projections presume the vaccination of 80 percent of girls 12 to 15 years old starting in 2020, and that at least 70 percent of women undergo screening twice in their lifetime.
This would push the prevalence of the disease below the bar of 4/100,000 women in countries such as the United States, Canada, Britain and France by 2059, and in mid-income countries such as Brazil and China by 2069, the authors calculate.