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Spend­ing too much time on the In­ter­net is caus­ing men­tal health dis­or­ders. Is In­dia pre­pared to tackle the ad­dic­tion?

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Spend­ing too much

time surf­ing the In­ter­net can cause men­tal health

dis­or­ders

Iwhen he was in the 11th T ALL BE­GAN stan­dard. His in­quis­i­tive mind led him to­wards the In­ter­net, and he started spend­ing more time in front of the com­puter.Long hours of sit­ting took a toll on his health and he de­vel­oped back pain.Yet the 16-year-old boy in Pune could not stay away from the vir­tual world. By the end of that year,he had down­loaded data worth ` 12,000. One day, when his mother tried to un­plug the In­ter­net con­nec­tion, he stabbed her. She was saved, but the boy’s ob­ses­sive be­hav­iour kept wors­en­ing. His par­ents took him to Chai­tanya Men­tal Health Care Cen­tre (cmhcc) where he was di­ag­nosed with In­ter­net ad­dic­tion. He was cured after three months of be­hav­iour mod­i­fi­ca­tion ther­apy and coun­selling ses­sions along with his fam­ily.

Rony George, di­rec­tor of cmhcc, says those who use In­ter­net for 14 to 15 hours daily, or to the ex­tent that their every­day rou­tine gets af­fected, can be cat­e­gorised as In­ter­net ad­dicts. He says his cen­tre re­ceives four to five In­ter­net ad­dicts ev­ery month; most are in their teens.

With more than 243 mil­lion In­ter­net users by Novem­ber 2014, In­dia ranks third in terms of In­ter­net us­age, fol­low­ing the US and China, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­netlives­tats.com, which pro­vides in­for­ma­tion on In­ter­net users. How­ever, there is no con­sol­i­dated data to show the ex­tent of ad­dic­tion to the tech­nol­ogy in In­dia. Health ex­perts say with ex­plo­sive use of the In­ter­net in the last decade and grow­ing de­pen­dence on it,a good num­ber of peo­ple with ac­cess to mul­ti­me­dia could be suf­fer­ing from the be­havioural disorder.

In 2013, a study funded by the In­dian Coun­cil of Med­i­cal Re­search (icmr) sur­veyed 2,755 peo­ple in the age group of 18 to 65 in ur­ban ar­eas of Ben­galuru. The re­searchers found that 1.3 per cent peo­ple were ad­dicted to the In­ter­net, 4.1 per cent to mo­bile phones, 3.5 per cent to so­cial net­work­ing sites, 4 per cent to on­line shop­ping, 2 per cent to on­line pornog­ra­phy and 1.2 per cent to gambling. The study was pub­lished in Asian Jour­nal of Psy­chi­a­try in May 2013.

That year, Deepak Goel, psy­chi­a­trist with Topi­wala Na­tional Med­i­cal Col­lege and BY L Nair Hos­pi­tal in Mumbai, found that 0.7 per cent of the 987 stu­dents from the city who

par­tic­i­pated in the study, were In­ter­net ad­dicts. The study was pub­lished in In­dian Jour­nal of Psy­chi­a­try in 2013.

It can­not be a co­in­ci­dence that In­dia’s first cen­tre to treat In­ter­net ad­dic­tion has opened in the cy­ber city of Ben­galuru. Since April 2014, when the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Men­tal Health Neu­ro­sciences (nimhans) opened the cen­tre,it has treated 25 chil­dren. Manoj Kumar Sharma, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at nimhans, says there are still many who are ei­ther re­luc­tant to come for­ward or do not re­port it due to lack of aware­ness about treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties.

World wide woe

In­dia is not the only coun­try bat­tling with the ad­dic­tion. In Iran, 40.7 per cent of the stu­dents are ad­dicted to the In­ter­net, ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished in Bulletin of En­vi­ron­ment, Phar­ma­col­ogy and Life Sci­ence in Fe­bru­ary 2014. About 2.2 per cent of the stu­dents suf­fer from se­vere ad­dic­tion.

In the US,which has the high­est In­ter­net us­age,the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion (apa) is try­ing to un­der­stand the disorder and its treat­ment. So far, apa has only de­fined In­ter­net Ad­dic­tion Disorder and says it is a pat­tern of us­ing the In­ter­net to the ex­tent that it can cause dys­func­tion and un­pleas­ant in­ter­nal re­ac­tions just in two months. apa has listed seven cri­te­ria for di­ag­no­sis, which in­cludes tol­er­ance, with­drawal symp­toms, us­ing In­ter­net for longer hours than one had ini­tially planned to, a con­stant de­sire to con­trol be­hav­iour, spend­ing con­sid­er­able time on mat­ters re­lated to the In­ter­net, re­duc­tion of so­cial, oc­cu­pa­tional and recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties be­cause of In­ter­net use and con­tin­ued use de­spite the knowl­edge of neg­a­tive ef­fects.An in­di­vid­ual show­ing any three symp­toms can be cat­e­gorised as In­ter­net ad­dict, it says.

The US Navy’s Sub­stance Abuse and Re­cov­ery Pro­gramme (sarp) re­cently treated a 31-year-old man, ad­dicted to a par­tic­u­lar tech­nol­ogy, Google Glass.The pa­tient used Google Glass for 18 to 19 hours a day and ex­hib­ited ir­ri­tabil­ity and frus­tra­tion when he was not able to use it. He also de­vel­oped an in­vol­un­tary move­ment disorder: the fore­fin­ger of his right hand would of­ten rise with­out his knowl­edge to tap his tem­ple, as if to en­able Google Glass.His con­di­tion has im­proved after three months of res­i­den­tial treat­ment,” writes An­drew Doan, head of ad­dic­tions and re­silience re­search at sarp,in the Septem­ber is­sue of Ad­dic­tive Be­hav­iours. “It is only a mat­ter of time be­fore re­search and treat­ments catch up,” Doan says.

In its ef­fort to con­tain the ad­dic­tion, China set up an In­ter­net Ad­dic­tion Treat­ment Cen­ter in the Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal of the Beijing Mil­i­tary Re­gion in 2004, where at least 5,000 youths ad­dicted to the In­ter­net have been treated so far. As per a me­dia re­port, the hos­pi­tal, in its five years of ex­is­tence till 2009, had used elec­tric shock ther­apy on as many as 3,500 In­ter­net ad­dicted pa­tients. Later, its ad­min­is­tra­tion banned this treat­ment and is now fo­cus­ing on be­havioural mod­i­fi­ca­tion ther­apy.

In 2010, the South Korean gov­ern­ment an­nounced a na­tional pro­gramme to con­tain the ad­dic­tion after it re­alised that more than 2 mil­lion chil­dren—two in ev­ery 10— suf­fer­ing from In­ter­net ad­dic­tion.

Sim­ple steps for de-ad­dic­tion

The 2013 study by Deepak Goel has found a clear relation be­tween psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tress and ad­dic­tive use of the In­ter­net. Those ex­ces­sively us­ing the In­ter­net were suf­fer­ing from anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion, notes the study.

Re­searchers in Turkey have also found a sim­i­lar cor­re­la­tion. They say that for the 15 per cent of stu­dents in the coun­try who can be cat­e­gorised as In­ter­net ad­dicts, surf­ing the world wide web was a way to over­come a swathe of is­sues—peer pres­sure, aca­demic stress, bore­dom,p oor per­for­mance in school, de­pres­sion and neg­a­tive self-per­cep­tion.T he study was pub­lished in Euro­pean Jour­nal of Pub­lic Health in May 2013.The re­searchers rec­om­mend that In­ter­net ad­dic­tion can be pre­vented by build­ing a healthy liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment around them, con­trol­ling the com­puter and In­ter­net us­age, pro­mot­ing book read­ing and pro­vid­ing treat­ment to those with a psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lem.

Sharma says chil­dren are more vul­ner­a­ble be­cause they get ex­posed to a huge amount of var­ied con­tent on the In­ter­net and are usu­ally not aware of the risks in ac­cess­ing it.He men­tions one of his pa­tients who used to send almost 300 mes­sages to his friends in a day. He started feel­ing pain in his fin­ger tips but was un­able to stop mes­sag­ing. Sharma says guardians have a ma­jor role in check­ing th­ese ad­dic­tions.They need to keep a tab on their chil­dren’s ac­tiv­i­ties.

There is also a need for more re­search and aware­ness to un­der­stand the real pic­ture of In­ter­net ad­dic­tion in In­dia.While en­joy­ing their In­ter­net ac­tiv­i­ties, chil­dren lose con­trol over their rou­tine ac­tiv­i­ties and their per­for­mance goes down. They start with­draw­ing from real world.

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