Internet gaming disorder among physicians: A growing concern affecting mental health and academic performance

In the fast-paced world of medical education, where assignment deadlines and personal issues put enormous mental and physical pressure on students, an unlikely ally of video games has emerged.

Medical students, like their peers around the world, are increasingly turning to video games as a means of relaxation and entertainment.

Recent statistics reveal that around 3.09 billion people worldwide are active gamers. Among these gamers, a significant proportion are students, with studies indicating that more than 75 percent of students spend an average of 20 hours per week engrossed in video games. And within the medical student community, the allure of video games becomes even more evident, said Dr. Manoj Kumar Sharma, a professor in the Department of Clinical Psychology at NIMHANS.

Dr. Sharma recently carried out a comprehensive review of eight articles out of a total of 102 studies conducted in various countries, including India, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, on how Internet gaming disorder (IGD) emerged as a health problem mental health prevalent among medical students, affecting their well-being and academic performance.

Dr Sharma also heads the Service for Health Use of Technology Clinic, which deals with digital addictions.

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What was the review trying to find?

According to lead author, Dr. Sharma, the purpose of the review was to collect data on the variables and consequences associated with IGD in medical students.

Over the past five years, interest in studying this area has gradually increased as the popularity of Internet games has grown. We found that IGD has been linked to gamer characteristics, psychopathology and outcomes among gamers, Dr. Sharma said First South.

More than 20 hours of gaming per week is considered a risk factor for IGD. The type of game, whether it’s a multiplayer or single-player game, the players’ membership in a gaming community, the amount of time spent online, and so on, have all been found to be important characteristics related to gaming.

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IGD can also lead to depression

According to the review, characteristics of play play a significant role in the development of IGD among medical students. Spending more than 20 hours of gaming per week has been identified as a risk factor for IGD, underscoring the importance of monitoring gaming time and implementing preventative strategies.

The review found that multiplayer gaming was associated with a higher risk of IGD, indicating a need for awareness regarding the potential negative impact of these gaming environments. Psychological characteristics were also correlated with IGD among medical students.

Internet gaming addiction can lead to depression and interpersonal problems can arise.
Internet gambling addiction can lead to depression and interpersonal problems. (Wikimedia Commons)

There are many other factors already leading to depression among medical students, some even leading to suicidal tendencies. Our review also found that depressive symptoms were identified as a significant predictor of higher IGD scores, highlighting the interplay between mental health and gaming behavior, Dr. Sharma explained.

Interestingly, interpersonal sensitivity and global symptom index were also linked to IGD. Interpersonal sensitivity refers to a person’s heightened awareness and sensitivity to the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of others in social interactions.

It involves being more attuned to subtle cues and dynamics in relationships, such as picking up non-verbal cues, understanding the emotions of others, and being responsive to social situations.

In the review, researchers found that interpersonal sensitivity is one of the psychological characteristics that has been found to be associated with Internet gaming disorder, indicating that individuals with IGD may exhibit lower levels of interpersonal sensitivity than those without the disorder.

However, the relationship between anxiety and IGD remains ambiguous, with some studies finding a significant association while others do not.

Furthermore, as in various other professions and even in children, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on gaming behavior has also been explored, revealing that increased stress during times of lockdown has led to increased activity of play between the participants.

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Sleep and academic performance are affected

Internet gaming addiction can lead to insomnia.
Internet gaming addiction can lead to sleep-related disorders. (Wikimedia Commons)

The review also looked at the consequences of IGD on medical students’ sleep and academic performance.

While some studies have not found a direct link between IGD and these issues, others have reported a negative relationship between IGD scores and academic achievement.

Boys were particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of IGD on academic performance. Medical students who showed signs of stress, depression or poor academic performance were more likely to engage in problem gambling behaviors, said Dr. Sharma.

“When academic performance declines, feelings of worthlessness can set in, leading to depression and other mental health problems.”

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Implications of these findings

The reviewers said the implications of these findings are significant for identifying people at risk and implementing preventative measures. Playing time emerges as a crucial risk indicator, underscoring the importance of screening and monitoring excessive gambling habits.

Furthermore, the association between IGD and psychological problems, such as depression and anxiety, suggests the need for comprehensive evaluation and tailored interventions for medical students.

Talking with First SouthDr Sandeep NS, a clinical psychologist from Bengaluru, said monitoring play time and promoting awareness of potential risks is crucial for the well-being of the population.

The medical profession is considered highly stressful. Not just medical students, I have clients who are doctors themselves. While many lack awareness, many of them are unable to handle stress and think that playing video games is the only way to fulfill themselves, he said First South.

Meanwhile, Dr. Sharma explained that “the findings suggest that addressing underlying psychological difficulties and providing tailored therapy may be instrumental in the prevention and management of Internet gaming disorder among medical students.”

“A comprehensive assessment and targeted interventions can make a significant difference.

Read also: Learn all about technology addiction

What can medical schools do?

Agree with this, said Dr. Sandeep Dagar, Senior Resident, Internal Medicine, Indira Gandhi Hospital, Dwarka First South, IGD is a serious problem among all young people especially after the Covid pandemic. Medical schools can prevent this by conducting various awareness programs, such as conducting workshops, seminars to inform about the risks associated with IGD and the signs and symptoms.

Doctors stressed that medical schools need to encourage physical and recreational activities by increasing team games.

Organizing sporting events, tournaments, outdoor activities that promote healthy and lifestyle changes can help them overcome this addiction, Dr. Sharma added.

Encouraging team sports and other similar activities on campus can help prevent gambling addiction.
Encouraging team sports and other similar activities on campus can help prevent gambling addiction. (Wikimedia Commons)

Talking with First SouthDr BL Sujatha Rathod, Director of Medical Education, Karnataka said that gambling is an alternative to stress but can turn addictive if left unchecked. To reduce this, we need mentors for all medical students: faculty can monitor five to 10 students, plus mentors need to check for presence, anxiety or depressive symptoms and advise accordingly.

You need to do stress relieving activities like yoga and deep breathing. In addition, motivational or positive speaker speeches may be organized once a month, he said she.

Meanwhile, Dr. Dagar said training in time management and self-discipline can help doctors balance their academic and personal lives.

Mental health experts play an important role in this. They can provide counseling sessions where they can talk about addiction and early identification of signs where students can seek help. I would ask students to socialize more with friends and family,” she said.

“Prevention requires a holistic approach from the medical college, including faculty and students. By fostering an enabling environment, medical schools can provide a stress-free college life and boost their confidence to achieve academic goals.

Also Read: NIMHANS launches helpline to help you with digital detox

More research is needed

The psychologists also emphasized the need for more research to understand the complexities of this relationship and explore potential gender differences to ensure effective support and intervention.

The reviewers also said that to fill gaps in existing knowledge, future research should employ different methodologies and larger sample sizes.

Longitudinal studies would be particularly useful for establishing causal relationships and uncovering the mechanisms underlying IGD.

Additionally, qualitative research could provide a deeper understanding of medical students’ experiences and perspectives regarding their gaming habits and struggles with IGD, Dr. Sharma added.

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