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Children and young adults who are seriously addicted to computer games will now be able to get help on the NHS after the launch of country’s first specialist clinic.
The new service is part of the National Centre for Behavioural Addictions which will also provide support for internet addiction and is located alongside the National Problem Gambling Clinic.
It comes amid growing concerns about the amount of time children and teenagers spend playing online games and the impact it can have on their mental health.
The World Health Organization has recently classified gaming disorder as a mental health condition for the first time.
The new Centre for Internet and Gaming Disorders launches at the same time as the children and young person’s gambling addiction service goes live.
It is part of an expansion of treatments promised in the NHS Long Term Plan, with referrals for both young people’s services starting in this month.
Psychiatrists and clinical psychologists at the services will work with patients aged between 13-25 whose lives are being wrecked by severe or complex behavioural issues associated with gaming, gambling and social media.
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.”
Gaming disorder is defined by the World Health Organization as a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour so severe that it takes “precedence over other life interests”.
Symptoms include impaired control over gaming, increased priority to gaming and continuation or escalation of gaming despite negative consequences – such as the impact on relationships, social life, studying and work life or spiralling financial costs.
Many countries are grappling with the issue of gaming and internet addiction In South Korea the government has introduced a law banning access for children under 16 from online games between midnight and 06:00.
In Japan, players are alerted if they spend more than a certain amount of time each month playing games and in China, internet giant Tencent has limited the hours that children can play its most popular games.
Claire Murdoch, NHS national mental health director said: “Compulsive gaming and social media and internet addiction is a problem that is not going to go away when they play such a key part in modern life.
“The NHS is rising to the challenge – as it always does – with these new, innovative services, but we can’t be expected to pick up the pieces, which is why tech giants need to recognise the impact that products which encourage repeated and persistent use have on young people and start taking their responsibilities seriously too.”
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.”
In addition to the new children and young people’s services opening, up to 14 new adult NHS gambling clinics are being opened nationwide. The Northern Gambling Service clinic in Leeds is the first outside London and opened last month.