The NHS has announced that a new centre will begin offering specialist treatment for children and young people battling video game addiction.
A new service launched by the health service, part of the Centre for Internet and Gaming Disorders, aims to provide treatment for people aged from 13 to 25 years old. Health professionals will offer advice and treatment via Skype consultations.
The move follows extensive discussions over the growing impact of gaming disorders on young people. In June, the NHS confirmed it will offer treatment to children with gambling addiction and create 14 adult NHS gambling clinics throughout the country.
Commenting on the announcement, NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said: “Health needs are constantly changing which is why the NHS must never stand still – this new service is a response to an emerging problem, part of the increasing pressures that children and young people are exposed to these days.
“However, the NHS should not be left to pick up the pieces – gambling and internet firms have a responsibility to their users as well as their shareholders and should do their utmost to prevent rather than cash in on obsessive or harmful behaviour.”
In May, the World Health Organisation (WHO) voted to recognise video game addiction as an official illness. The organisation defines gaming disorder as behaviour or patterns that must be of “sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning”.
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Gaming addiction was in the spotlight in March during the DCMS’ addictive technologies inquiry. Self-confessed gaming addicts told MPs of their experiences, detailing how addiction led one gamer James Good to lose track of his studies at university.
At the peak of his addiction, Good told MPs he spent 32 hours playing without a break.
“I was falling behind, my grades were slipping as a result of playing too many games,” he said. “I didn’t eat, sleep or leave my room, I escaped my problems via games.”
The UK isn’t alone in grappling with the issue of gaming and internet addiction. The South Korean government has introduced a law which bans access for children under 16 from online games between midnight and 6am.
Similarly, in Japan players are alerted if they spend more than a particular amount of time each month while in China, internet giant Tencent has limited the hours that kids can play its most popular games titles.
Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, director of the national centre for internet and gaming addictions, and the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ spokesperson on behavioural addictions, said: “The centre for gaming and internet addictions is the first and only specialist service on the NHS.
“I am delighted to be leading it and grateful to the NHS for recognising the problem, which will ultimately see us helping thousands of children and young people.”