In my practice, during the last six months, at least five young people have reported psychotic symptoms associated or exacerbated by electronic screens.
As per my protocol, I always get the “screen time” history:
- Video games (including laptops)
- Use of computers / Internet, especially laptops and iPads
- Mobile phone / smartphone use (talking, texting, streaming, and the Internet)
- Television (especially cartoons / animation, 3D or viewing on a laptop)
Unsurprisingly, these five patients, ages 15-22, were “online” for six hours or more each day. Three were women and two were men.
After discussing the toxic effects of electronic displays on the brain, I recommended that each of these patients abandon all interactive electronic media for at least four weeks.
The three women decided to give up games, laptops, and phones. In all three, the symptoms disappeared completely within a month.
One of the two men significantly reduced consumption and his hallucinations disappeared; his paranoia remained, but less severe, which in turn improved the dysfunction. Another man turned out to be very addicted to the internet and video games and flatly refused to change his habits. Needless to say, the young man still suffers from psychotic symptoms.
It is significant to note that the therapeutic effects were achieved without the use of drugs.
This is very important because the medications used to treat psychotic symptoms are very effective and have serious side effects: weight gain, hormonal dysfunction, and movement disorders that can be irreversible.
Electronic displays, especially interactive ones (as opposed to passive ones like television), increase dopamine in the brain’s reward center. This effect has been demonstrated by brain scanning (Koepp, 1998). Dopamine is known as a chemical that promotes wellness in the brain, but it is also associated with stress, addiction, anxiety, mood, and attention. Excess dopamine can cause psychotic symptoms such as voices, delusions, paranoia, or confusion.
Psychosis is defined by abnormal thinking. This can include thought content such as hallucinations, illusions or paranoia, or a thought process (much disorganized thinking or feeling that thoughts are “blocked”). It is usually attributed to people with severe mental illness, such as schizophrenics, but it can also be seen in “normal” people who are under severe stress. Children, in particular, are more prone to hallucinations when they are traumatized, deprived of sleep, or overly irritated. The use of an interactive electronic display invokes or simulates all three states.
Bottom Line: Children, teens, and young adults with unexplained hallucinations or delusions should remove all electronic screens for at least three weeks as part of a diagnostic test. This includes cell phones, as texting, browsing the media, and using the Internet can quickly take hours.
Virtually all teens and many young adults are not yet in control of the need to limit their use, so parents must physically remove these devices. While this may seem extreme, tough times call for drastic action. Psychosis and its treatment is a serious illness with long-lasting consequences.
As mental disorders in young people continue to grow and there is growing evidence of the toxic effects of electronic devices on the developing brain, parents and clinicians will prudently remove this abusive environmental factor from a child’s life as part of the diagnosis and as a whole. The “hand” of any mental health treatment plan.
When you start to get controversial about the removal of screens, after all, they are so deeply ingrained in our lives, this is what I say to my patients and their parents: “You will never regret removing video games and using your computer, but you may regret very much what they let remain. ”
This is the sound you hear every time you tell your child to stop playing video games at night. But you never listen. You hear it over and over again.
If your child’s love of video games seems to have taken over his life and you are genuinely concerned about his well-being, it could lead to what the World Health Organization (WHO) officially classifies as a mental disorder: Gaming Disorder.
It’s easy to enjoy and play video games once in a while, or it’s easy to get addicted to video games for hours on end, according to the WHO, but ultimately disconnecting and returning to other activities may not mean frustration or addiction to video games. When technology begins to interfere with personal, family or social health, it can officially become a “problem” with other negative consequences.
Signs of video game addiction that you may consider as a parent include:
- Loss of control over the game (eg, start, frequency, intensity, duration, end, context)
- Raise the priority of games to the extent that games take priority over other interests in life and daily activities.
- Continuation or aggravation of games, despite the occurrence of negative consequences.
“For a diagnosis of gambling disorder, the behavior must be severe enough to cause significant disruption in personal, family, social, educational, professional, or other important areas of life, and would normally be present for at least 12 months, ”said the WHO.
How can addiction to video games affect health?
When the use of video games gets out of control and you become addicted to video games, it means that the person who is playing cannot stop, even if continuing to play is causing negative consequences. This level of play can affect mental, emotional and physical health in a number of ways, including:
- Increased risk of obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and high cholesterol due to a sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise.
- Forgotten social skills due to lack of interaction with other people outside the electronic environment.
- Concentration and attention problems due to rapid movements and dynamic action in video games.
- Developmental problems due to avoidance of tasks that contribute to learning, self-knowledge, and personal development.
- Seizures and repetitive stress trauma due to flashing graphics, lights and colors that can trigger seizures in patients with epilepsy.
- Increase in aggression or violent behavior due to the content of certain types of video games.
Just as other enjoyable activities like gambling, drinking alcohol, or even eating can be completely safe when done in moderation, video games can be fun, enjoyable, and safe when used in healthy doses. When gaming begins to take over life, it can be disastrous and even misdiagnosed as a gaming disorder.
As video games and technology become more popular, they have been shown to have a great impact on cultural relationships, psychological development, and the lifestyle of children and adults. However, it is important to note that only a small number of people play video games to the extent that they can be classified as having a gaming disorder or video game addiction as specified by the WHO.
“All game addicts from time to time do not suffer from this disorder,” said Dr. Shekhar Saxena of the World Health Organization. “In fact, only a minority of people who play games meet the strict criteria for gambling disorder.”
And in many cases, the WHO explained, those diagnosed with a gaming disorder or video game addiction often have comorbid mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, ADHD or even autism.
“I’m not surprised that the World Health Organization has classified gambling disorder as a mental illness,” said Karen Russell, PCC-S, LCDC III, director of Erie Firelands County Counseling and Recovery Services. “I think this has been a growing concern in recent years and generally comes to the attention of professionals in the context of another disorder or anxiety that is leading them to treatment. The challenge is determining which came first. Does the gambling obsession take other things in your life into the background: social contacts, emotional well-being, work, finances, intimate relationships, sometimes general hygiene, and health-related behavior? Or did the person have an underlying illness where they started shutting down from everything and gaming became their only option? ”
However, it is important to note that psychiatrists in the United States have not yet formally recognized Internet or video game addiction as a separate disorder, instead listing them as conditions for further study. This means that coverage and treatment for gambling disorder may not yet be available at most mental health clinics. Some health professionals hope that this official WHO recognition will open the door to easier access to coverage and treatment options.
Currently, Firelands Counseling & Recovery Services not only offers treatment for gaming disorder or video game addiction, but also provides diagnoses for mental illness and treatment for comorbid conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and others. Learn more about the mental health treatment available today at our 11 offices in seven counties.