We hear a lot about the links between technology and suicide and about the use of the internet and mobile phones as a mental disorder. In the fifth edition of the DSM-V, Internet Gaming Disorder is identified as a condition warranting more clinical research with a view to future inclusion as a mental disorder.
Large numbers of studies are being conducted with many claiming internet use causes structural changes in the brain similar to those found in the brains of drug addicts. , No snorting, smoking or injecting required. You just have to look at this drug for long enough and your brain is damaged. Is it possible your laptop and mobile phone are the crack cocaine of gadgets?
According to the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery, Internet addicts suffer from depression and anxiety-related disorders and often use the fantasy world of the Internet to psychologically escape unpleasant feelings or stressful situations. (According to me, psychiatry addicts often use the fantasy world of the DSM to escape unpleasant duties like relating to people as real human beings and recognizing emotional distress as an inherent part of the human condition but that conclusion arises from an observational study rather than an RCT and failing to meet the ‘gold standard’ doesn’t hold any weight.)
Much of the research supporting internet addiction as a bona fide disorder comes out of Asia where it has spawned a lucrative treatment industry with the development of training camps that offer to “wean” children and adolescents from excessive internet use.
Not to be outdone, ReSTART, a residential treatment center for “pathological computer use”, in Seattle, Washington, offers a 45-day program intended to help people wean themselves from pathological computer use.
Treatment methods are not particularly benign with the development in August 2013 by researchers at the MIT Media Lab of a USB-connected keyboard accessory that punishes users who spend too much time on a particular website with an electric shock. It would be interesting to know whether this is considered treatment or punishment by the government of the People’s Republic of China who have banned physical punishment to “wean” teens from the Internet and banned the use of Electro-shock therapy to treat internet addiction. I recommend you think twice before starting a status update with “OMG that’s totally shocking” lest your facebook friends think you’re in rehab.
In Spain, focus is on the development of a diagnostic tool for identifying mobile phone dependence disorder. Now apparently we already have the Mobile Phone Dependence Questionnaire (MPDQ), the Scale of Problem Mobile Phone Use and the Scale of Self-perception of Text Message Dependence but the Spanish researchers thought we needed another diagnostic tool. Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up (well you could if you wanted it included in the DSM but you’d have to find an impressive acronym – Self Test for Use of Phone Induced Derangement (STUPID) perhaps?)
The author tells us that “The results obtained in previous exploratory studies showed that the mobile phone is one of the technological tools more used by adolescents.” As we would say in NZ “give that man a chocolate fish!” For the foreigners reading this, the chocolate fish is a very Kiwi and totally edible equivalent of a nobel prize.
Now I don’t know if I’m alone with this but I have a picture of a huddle of earnest and slightly nervous psychiatrists (I believe the correct technical term is ‘a pomposity of psychiatrists’) tentatively poking laptops and mobile phones with pointed sticks, then quickly immersing them in buckets of water to ensure they are dead.
Some psychiatrists are able to push through their fear of the interweb thingy and handheld cellular sexting and gambling devices in the pursuit of the dollars to be had from the development of e-therapy via the internet and mobile phone.
Here in New Zealand, Dr Sally Merry from Auckland University is one of those brave, piorneering souls. Dr Merry is aggressively promoting a computer game she and her colleagues have developed called SPARX – an acronym for Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic X-factor thoughts (contrived much?). According to Dr Merry SPARX is “an interactive fantasy-based game” for 12-19 year olds. In the game, the player is “teleported into a fantasy world where they have to learn how to identify and fight Gnats (gloomy, negative, automatic thoughts).”
On Breakfast TV, Dr Merry advises viewers that SPARX is currently in need of funding to help with distribution, and that she hopes some of the funding put aside for e-therapy in the Government’s latest youth mental health package would go towards distribution of her game.
So, psychiatrists are making money from promoting internet gaming and general internet use as harmful AND making money from promoting internet gaming as helpful. And Dr Merry is not a drug pusher despite wanting funding for a product that causes the same harm as drugs.
Confused? Don’t be! Its simple. If internet gaming is controlled by (and producing revenue for) a psychiatrist its normal and may save you from suicide, otherwise it’s a disorder that can lead to suicide. Drugs that cause brain damage are bad if given to children by others but ok if given to them by a doctor.
Dr Merry would like the government to fund a fantasy computer game despite being a member of a profession that considers fantasy computer games may cause structural changes to the brain associated with addiction. Its ok though because a pomposity of psychiatrists have decreed that nothing done in the name of ‘treatment’ can cause harm to those it is done to.
Now I’m with psychologist Dr John M. Grohol who observes that “Every new technology unleashed on society from the 1800s on was thought to be the end of civilized society — the paperback book, the telephone, the automobile, the motion picture, television, and finally video games. And now, the Internet is the latest in a long line of demons society would like to blame for some of its problems.” As Dr Grohol points out “some small subset of people have behavioral problems with learning how to integrate using parts of the Internet into their everyday lives. But people have similar problems with work, the television, and many other things in life, and we can still treat them without demonizing (and labeling) the conduit that brings a person new entertainment, information, or enjoyment.”
So I reckon the next big technological advance will be thought transference and predict the creation of ‘psychiatric disrespect disorder’ when the authors of the DSM get a direct feed on what the rest of the population really think of them. I expect to be assessed as being at the severe end of the spectrum.
 Zhou, Y., Lin, F., Du, Y., Qin, L., Zhao, Z., Xu, J., & Lei, H. (2009). Gray matter abnormalities in Internet addiction: A voxel-based morphometry study. European Journal of Radiology. doi:10.1016/j.ejrad.2009.10.025
 Yuan, K.; Qin, W.; Wang, G.; Zeng, F.; Zhao, L.; Yang, X.; Liu, P.; Liu, J. et al. (2011). “Microstructure Abnormalities in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder”. In Yang, Shaolin. PLoS ONE 6 (6): e20708. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0020708. PMC 3108989. PMID 21677775.
 Prog Health Sci 2012, Vol2, No1 Mobile phone addiction in adolescence: The Test of Mobile PhoneDependence (TMD) Chóliz M. Department of Basic Psychology University of Valencia Avda Blasco Ibáñez, Spain