Internet addiction is classified as a "mental illness" in China
At the beginning of November, internet addiction was defined in China as a mental and behavioural disturbance caused by repeated and excessive use of the internet. For now, its classification as a illness is only being used in military hospitals that are also open to the public. The aim of the experts is now to get the Ministry of Health to accept the classification, so that the ailment can be treated in all hospitals. The Xinhua press agency reports that the Ministry of Health has made no statement on the matter.
The new illness was defined by the Health Bureau of the General Logistic Department of the Chinese People's Liberation Army. Previously, the General Hospital of Beijing Military Area had formulated the "clinical standards in diagnosing Internet addiction". Anyone whose "average daily continuous use of the Internet" reaches or exceeds six hours, "moreover with this condition lasting three months or longer", and who displays one or more of a list of symptoms – mental or physical stress, inability to concentrate, disturbed sleep, and an urge to get back on the internet again – is in danger of succumbing.
The classification of internet addiction as a psychological problem that needs treatment has "triggered widespread online debate" in China, reports the Xinhua news agency. Tao Ran, one of a team of physicians and psychologists who described the disease, is now trying to explain the new diagnosis in the media, and to reassure people that young people affected by it would not suffer discrimination. In 2005, Tao Ran was a co-founder of the first clinic for treating internet addiction. He says mental disorders are not limited to serious insanity, but are in fact wide ranging and include depression, sleep disorder and anxiety disorder. "We all know addictions such as compulsive alcoholism and gambling are mental diseases. Internet addiction should also be included."
Tao says more than half of such addicts can be cured with psychological counselling, military training, a regular routine with lots of exercise, or other methods which require no medication. "But those with symptoms of depression and anxiety need medication. And if they don't receive medical treatment, they cannot recover from internet addiction".
In America, calls are becoming ever louder for internet addiction to be included in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) as an obsessive, compulsive functional disturbance. The American Medical Association (AMA) decided last year, at least for the time being, not to regard internet addiction as an independent form of disease.