NHS treats hundreds with gaming disorders

Hundreds of gamers including children and their family members have been treated by the NHS National Centre for Gaming Disorders.

Data revealed for the first time today shows 745 people have been referred for treatment at the UK’s only gaming clinic since it opened in October 2019.

Gaming disorder means a person struggles to control how often they play video games which can be up to fourteen hours a day or more, with some cases resulting in violence, avoiding school and work, breakdown in family relations, and general withdrawal from society.

The numbers of gamers getting treated increased by more than half from 2021 to 2022, while family members of those suffering from a disorder receiving treatment increased 46%.

NHS consultant psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, and family therapists working at the clinic offer treatment to people aged 13 and over suffering from a gaming disorder, as well as their family members.

Depending on patient need they can be offered a range of treatments including family consultations, individual or group therapy, parent workshops, ongoing parent support groups, and family therapy.

Anybody thinking they or their child may benefit from support can be referred into the clinic by their local NHS or can go online to the gaming clinic website to self-refer themselves.

The national centre is based in London, but treatment delivery is mainly online making it accessible to the whole of England without patients having to travel for treatment.

NHS National Centre for Gaming Disorders founder and director Professor Henrietta Bowden-Jones said: “Gaming disorders can have a significant impact on children and their family to the extent it can take over and stop them from living their normal daily life.

“From avoiding school or work, engaging in violence, to family breakdowns, the harms to those suffering can be significant; but there is help from the NHS for those who need it.

“We also know as with other addictive and mental health disorders, the earlier they are identified and treated the more successful the outcomes will be for both the individual but also for the wellbeing of the family members who are also impacted negatively by someone’s excessive gaming.

“If you are struggling with your mental health do seek help from the NHS – you can contact your GP or refer yourself online to our world leading talking therapies service or if you are in a crisis, you can call your local helpline 24/7.”

Minister for Primary Care and Public Health Neil O’Brien said: “Technology can be hugely beneficial – from developing problem-solving skills, to socialising and helping people ‘switch off’ and relax.

“As with anything, too much of it is a bad thing – and we know gaming can be addictive. There are ways to prevent gaming addiction, which include recognising the warning signs and monitoring your online activity if and when you’re worried.

“This gaming clinic is a great example of the wider work happening to fight and help treat addiction across the UK, including investing an extra £2.3 billion a year by 2024 to expand mental health services to enable better access to vital support.”

The average age of a gamer seen by the clinic is 17, with children aged between 13-14 and 16-17 also representing a higher number of the patients seen.

Treatment length varies based on patient need, ranging from a one-off session to family therapy lasting over a year, the average treatment time is around three months representing 12 treatment sessions.

Lisa* from Midlands contacted the NHS gaming disorder centre last year following escalating issues with her 14-year-old son Ryan*.

Ryan, previously having no diagnosed mental health condition, had become addicted to games to the extent it was impacting his life.

Gaming disorder caused increased aggressiveness while playing games resulting in strained family relations.

To get support with help managing Ryan’s condition Lisa joined the gaming clinics parents’ workshops, attending six sessions with a qualified psychologist, as well as attending follow-up one-on-one counselling sessions with her husband.

Since attending the sessions Lisa’s own mental health has improved as well as having improved relations with her son with new strategies to help manage his condition.

Lisa said: “I highly recommend the National Centre for Gaming Disorders for anybody who thinks they may need support for either themselves or a loved one struggling with a gaming disorder.

“The group sessions helped me feel like I wasn’t alone and by sharing stories with people in similar situations, I also didn’t feel judged, instead feeling supported and comfortable in seeking support.

“Through both the group and individual sessions I not only felt listened to, but I also learned some invaluable strategies for helping my child which has made a real difference in helping improve management of the disorder.

“Anybody who thinks they may need support should come forward for care.”