“Gaming Disorder” Identified as a Mental Health Condition

“Gaming Disorder” Identified as a Mental Health Condition

The World Health Organization recently decided to define “gaming disorder” as a mental health condition. This disorder is included in the list of recognized mental health conditions found in the beta draft of the 11th International Classification of Diseases. This addition to the ICD could lead to a significant change in the way mental health professionals treat people who play video games obsessively. However, some experts in the field remain skeptical.

About the Condition

According to the WHO, gaming disorder will be defined as a behavior pattern focused on gaming that is recurrent or persistent. To be diagnosed with gaming disorder, the individual must also be experiencing a significant impairment in important areas of functioning because of gaming behaviors. For example, a patient may be diagnosed with gaming disorder if the time he or she spends playing video games is impairing his or her ability to hold a job or maintain healthy interpersonal relationships. In addition, evidence of the condition must generally be present for at least 12 months before a mental health professional can make a formal diagnosis of gaming disorder. However, in some cases, mental health professionals will be able to make this diagnosis after a shorter period of time if the symptoms are severe enough.

The ICD-11 will contain only a clinical description of gaming disorder. It will not contain any recommendations for the prevention or treatment of this condition at this time.

Important Statistics

According to the American Psychiatric Association, approximately 160 million people in the United States play internet-based games. This figure does not include people who play video games that are not connected to the internet, so the true incidence of gaming in the general public is likely much higher. In a survey of young adults in the United States, Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom, researchers found that as many as 86 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 24 had recently played an online game. Gaming is slightly more prevalent among men than women.

While not all of these people will meet the requirements to be diagnosed with gaming disorder, the sheer number of people who play video and internet-based games is indicative of the addictive nature of this activity. In fact, before gaming disorder was added to the draft of the WHO’s 11th International Classification of Diseases, the American Psychiatric Association added “internet gaming disorder” to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a condition that needs further study. It is important to note that the description of internet gaming disorder listed in the DSM-5 differs significantly from the definition of gaming disorder that is expected to appear in the latest version of the ICD.

How Will the New Entry Help Medical Professionals?

The purpose of the ICD is to provide mental health and other healthcare professionals with standards they can use to diagnose and categorize different conditions affecting their patients. It also helps with the tracking and statistical analysis of different health trends around the world. This manual is currently used by more than 100 countries. The most recent version, which will include gaming disorder, is expected to be published in May 2018. The version of the ICD currently in use was approved in 1990.

Including gaming disorder in the newest version of the ICD will allow healthcare workers to make an official, specific diagnosis when a patient exhibits an inappropriate obsession with video games. It will also make it easier for healthcare professionals who diagnose and treat this condition to bill insurance companies and receive timely payments for their services. In addition, having gaming disorder listed in the ICD will simplify and improve the quality of research related to gaming addiction, which will in turn improve prevention and treatment options for patients.

Controversies Surrounding Gaming Disorder

The WHO’s decision to include gaming disorder in the ICD has not been well received by all scholars and healthcare professionals. Some experts in the field believe that gaming disorder is not a condition itself, but is instead a symptom of another mental health problem. These experts warn that treating gaming disorder as a separate condition could be damaging for patients, as it would ignore the underlying problem. Other experts say that if gaming disorder is a real issue on its own, it is extremely rare in the general public. These experts fear that adding it to the ICD could lead to over-diagnosis and unnecessary treatment for patients who don’t have a true impairment.

Nonetheless, others in the field believe that designating gaming disorder as a valid diagnosis is a step in the right direction. Proponents argue that once this condition can be diagnosed, it will gain more attention, and healthcare professionals will find better ways to define, prevent and treat this problem.


David R is a writer who contributes to the Academy Alert.

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