South Korea is one of the most wired countries in the world. But that level of connectivity is a double-edged sword in a society that some experts say is becoming increasingly addicted to the Internet and where 95% of adults own a smartphone.
“Korea has an environment that allows easy access to computer games and other activities online,” says Sungwon Roh, a psychiatrist at Seoul’s Hanyang University who studies Internet addiction. “You can connect to your smartphone anywhere. Every neighborhood has what we call a ‘PC bang’ or, in English, PC café. Here, Koreans of all ages can access the Internet very easily.”
And those PC bangs are often shiny places with big, comfy chairs, huge screens and fast Internet, all for about a dollar an hour. Most are open 24 hours a day. So it’s no wonder some customers overstay their welcome.
“I’ve seen a lot of customers come here late in the afternoon and leave the next morning. That’s pretty common,” says Lee Kae Seong, the owner of the OZ PC Bang in Seoul’s upmarket Gangnam neighborhood. Some, he says, stay a day or two. And others become… well, ripe.
“Some customers who play for too long, I’m sorry to say, they get smelly,” he says. “And other customers start to complain. So we have to ask them to leave.”
Stories like these help explain why Roh says South Korea is facing a public health crisis — one he sees firsthand while treating patients at his hospital.
“Here I see dramatic cases of both adolescents and adults come to seek professional help,” he says, “because they started to have serious problems in their health, relationships with their family or studies at school from game addiction. Some students will refuse to go to school or even inflict physical force on their parents.”
To some parents in the United States, this might sound distressingly familiar even though mental health experts are still debating the extent of the problem. The American Psychiatric Association does not recognize Internet or online game addiction as a unique mental disorder.
But the South Korean authorities know the country has a problem: Almost 20% of the population — nearly 10 million people — are at serious risk of Internet addiction, according to a 2018 government survey. Roh says the country is trying to do something about it.
“There are regional education offices that provide services such as in-school counseling, screening surveys, preventive disciplines and, for severe cases, addiction camps,” he says. Almost all of the services are financed by the government, at the national or municipal levels, and have been for more than a decade.
added “gaming disorder” to its list of recognized addictions. That decision hasn’t gone over well with South Korea’s lucrative esports industry, which fears the economic fallout and stigmatization such a designation may bring. But it may bring more resources to a system already struggling to deal with the problem at hand.
The WHO move may also help the U.S. government and mental health professionals to focus on these problems.
“It is important for the U.S. government and relevant experts to pay attention to this issue,” says psychiatrist Roh, “to screen out addicted students and provide adequate therapy to those diagnosed with game addiction.”
South Korea already has its public health crisis, he says. If the U.S. doesn’t act, it won’t be far behind.
Source : MindShift