Being crazy about games an invitation to madness

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Boys play video games at a parlor in Ho Chi Minh City. Doctors say addiction to games can cause mental illnesses in young people. Photo: Dam Huy

On August 1, the National Institute of Mental Health received a 15-year-old girl from Hanoi in a semi-conscious state.

She was found to have gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted infection known commonly as the clap.

She began playing video games when she was 12, and soon became addicted to sex games. Soon after, she began acting out the games, having unprotected sex with different people, mostly her classmates, news website Dan Tri reported.

Doctor Nguyen Van Dung of the hospital said the girl will be an inmate for a month, while she is treated for her genital disease as well as her "sexual disorder."

Doctors say that addiction to games and stimulants have become widespread among Vietnamese youth as a result of busy parents having no time for their children. The resultant loose family structure and parental neglect facilitate the onset of mental problems, they add.

The unidentified girl said her parents did not notice her problems until it was too late.

"They only knew about me beating up some friends as the school informed them about it. They knew nothing about my playing games and having sex. They were too busy working," she said.

She said when her parents found out recently, they banned her from using the computer at home, but she continued to do so when everyone was asleep. She also played truant at school in order to play games at nearby shops. 

"I started playing games after I was introduced to them by some friends, and then I pulled more of them in"¦ After a while, we decided to try things they do in the games, and really got into it."

Doctor Dung said the girl's recovery depends on her parents' cooperation when she gets home.

He said she would have had a better chance at regaining normalcy had her parents spotted her problems sooner.

Game addiction puts one's mental system in a constantly tense and excited mode, robbing it off its proper functions to control emotions and harmful behaviors, Dung said.

Also, game addicts stay indoor most of the time and their lack of exposure to sunlight inhibits the production of several hormones and leads to depression.

"Parents should notice their children's abnormal behavior, such as loss of focus, sleep disturbances, or rapid mood changes, and bring them to a mental expert as soon as possible," Dung said.

A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, released earlier this year, listed various mental disorders in children between the ages of 3 and 17, with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) being most prevalent, affecting nearly 7 percent of the children. This was followed by behavioral or conduct problems affecting 3.5 percent, anxiety (3 percent), depression (2 percent), and autism (1 percent).

The report, using figures provided by other federal health agencies between 2005 and 2011, also said the interaction of mental disorders and other factors can lead to suicide, the second-leading cause of death among adolescents between 12 and 17, according to a CBS News report.

Vietnam does not have official figures yet, but doctors said mental disorders among the youth have become more noticeable of late, prominently in victims of physical abuse or addictions to games, drugs or sex.

Doctor Nguyen Ngoc Quang, director of the Ho Chi Minh City Mental Examination Center, told the Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper the center recently examined a 25-year-old man who was arrested by police for robbery.

"He had been addicted to online games for more than ten years, and had been considered crazy by his neighbors since a teenager.

"And tests confirmed that he had problems."

The doctor said game addiction is like a medical syndrome, causing one to fall deep into a fantasy world and be detached from real life. Such people also suffer sleeping problems and emotional and behavioral disorders.

"When someone suffers such addiction from when they are teenagers, like the robber, their mental development will surely be affected," he said.

"They can easily become criminals as they are no longer reasonable, or just because they cannot fend for themselves doing legal jobs," Quang said.

He said hospitals have been receiving an increasing number of teenage patients with mental problems like stress and depression.

Mental problems arising from addictive substances are even more dangerous, doctors say.

They said examinations of those had mental problems that were worsened by drug use show that they can suffer from acute hallucinatory paranoia, a mental disorder in which periods of hallucination occur in addition to the delusions.

New kinds of synthetic stimulants, including the popular methamphetamine, pose much higher risks of hallucination compared to traditional heroin.

Doctor Lam Hieu Minh from Ho Chi Minh City Psychiatric Hospital said teenagers are among the most vulnerable to mental impacts of problems created by the modern life.

He also said the loose family structure these days has made a bad situation worse.

"Many families these days no longer have the strong mutual supports that previous generations had. 

"Parents are caught up in making a living and pay less attention to their children."

Dr. Quang said teenagers with mental disorders are easily agitated, and it has been seen worldwide that these are pushing them to commit suicide. 

A child needs a supportive family and good education, which includes training of living skills like how to deal with stress, he said.

The doctor said untreated mental disorders in teenagers are likely to stay with them their entire lives.

Child victims of abuses tend to grow up being offenders, he said.

Any mistreatment from school, family, or workplace leaves an impression in the child and affects the development of her/his personality and they can repeat the abuses on their own or other children when they are grown up, he said.

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