From Selfies to Video Games: New Addictions We Need to Talk About

Advancements in technology lead to a whole new set of mental health issues.

Addictions to video games, taking selfies, and social media are real things – and issues we should pay attention to if we are going to (finally) take mental health as seriously as the government, companies, and changemakers collectively claim to.

First, the selfie; something humanity has a love/hate relationship with. Researchers have just classified obsessively taking selfies as a real mental disorder called selfitis. In a new paper published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction titled “An Exploratory Study of ‘Selfitis’ and the Development of the Selfitis Behavior Scale,” researchers Janarthanan Balakrishnan of the Thiagarajar School of Management in Madura, India, and Mark D. Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University in Nottingham, UK created a Selfitis Behavior Scale (SBS) to classify the selfie-obsessed set into degrees of exhibiting selfitis.

The researchers came up with a set of factors that drive people to snap selfies obsessively. The questions included things like “I am able to express myself more in my environment through taking sefies,” “I feel more popular when I post my selfies on social media,” “I take more selfies and look at them privately to boost my self confidence,” and “I gain more acceptance among my peer group when I take a selfie and share it on social media,” among others.

Researchers found 225 students and classified them as either borderline, acute, or chronic. Of the participants, 34 per cent were borderline, 40.5 per cent were acute, and 25.5 per cent were classified as chronic. One of the more surprising findings of the study was that the male participants were found to exhibit selfitis at a higher rate than women (right?!), with 57.5 per cent of men experiencing the disorder, compared to 42.5 per cent of women. Not surprisingly, younger people in the 16-20-year-old age group were found to be the most susceptible to developing selfitis. So, what does a selfie addiction look like? Nine per cent of the participants shot more than eight selfies every day and 25 per cent shared at least three of those selfies on social media (and likely lost a few followers each day in the process).

As it turns out, the constant selfie-snappers are often insecure. “Typically, those with the condition suffer from a lack of self-confidence and are seeking to ‘fit in’ with those around them and may display symptoms similar to other potentially addictive behaviours,” Balakrishnan told the New York Post. “Now the existence of the condition appears to have been confirmed, it is hoped that further research will be carried out to understand more about how and why people develop this potentially obsessive behaviour and what can be done to help people who are the most affected.” So, the selfie has gone from plain annoying to potentially harmful.

While video games have been around forever (who else remembers the first Nintendo?), they are now more addictive than ever, thanks to their wholly immersive nature, their accessibility on every platform (and at our fingertips, no less), and the fact that they are now scientifically designed to make users want to keep playing.

Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) made headlines when it announced plans to classify video game addiction as mental health disease in 2018, stating that Gaming Disorder should be treated as seriously as any other mental health disorder. The WHO defines the disorder as a “persistent or recurrent” behaviour pattern of “sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” Those who experience Gaming Disorder exhibit “impaired control” and increasingly prioritize gaming that escalates despite “negative consequences.” For a diagnosis of a Gaming Disorder, video game playing must be “normally evident over a period of at least 12 months,” however, of symptoms are severe enough and all requirements are met, those who have been playing for shorter periods of time may be diagnosed. Especially during the freezing Canadian winters, it’s easy to get sucked into a video game vortex that lasts hours (so I’m told). Like drugs and alcohol, gaming offers an escape from reality, but if you’re not careful, they can cause you to lose touch with it all together.

Then there’s social media, a whole other highly addictive beast in itself. Social media addictions are now real things that can take major tolls on one’s mental health when it comes to everything from feelings of inferiority (those prettily filtered, smiling Jones’ are tough to keep up with) to body image issues.  A study published in the journal Computers and Human Behaviour found that people who report using seven or more social media channels (yikes, who has time for that?) were more than three times as likely as those using less than two platforms to experience high levels of general anxiety symptoms. Like video games, social networking sites are also specifically engineered to be as addictive as possible. If you think you may have a social media addiction, you can find out by taking the Bergen Social Media Addiction Scale.

Of course, one of the most common modern day ailments is cell phone addiction. In fact, just yesterday, in an open letter to Apple, Apple investors called for action against iPhone addiction, especially among children.

The bottom line is that, thanks to technology, we now have a slew of new addictions to pay attention to, in addition to addictions that have existed for years (i.e. drugs, alcohol, and gambling) and to other mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. And the world isn’t getting any less chaotic or uncertain on top of it all. It’s important to note the interconnectivity of these new addictions with other mental health issues and be able to identify warning signs in ourselves and others.