Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a very controversial mental health disorder that many feel is more a collection of unwanted symptoms stemming from other, bigger problems in life (i.e. depression) than an organic, mental disorder. Still, millions of American boys each year are quickly given the ADHD label by their family doctor (often without any formal mental health diagnosis), immediately put on and endless supply of psychostimulant drugs like Adderall, and left to believe they are inferior human beings genetically incapable of sitting still and being productive. In many ADHD cases these boys (yes, boys are diagnosed with ADHD at about a 9:1 rate to girls) become addicted to their stimulant drugs, succumb to self-fulfilling prophecies relating to their “mental illness,” and fail to live up to their human potential as a result. As you can see the idea of simply “putting a kid on something” for annoying and challenging life issues can lead to even bigger, long-term issues and complications.
And now, if ADHD weren’t already a stretch for a “mental illness,” mental health experts want to soon add video gaming disorder to the DSM (the mental health diagnostic handbook used by professionals).
The pleasure principle
While it’s not a stretch to suggest that video game playing likely has a negative impact on life wellness and success, to blame video game playing as though it is an uncontrollable biological disease is to miss the bigger picture. More simply, think about it this way — if you aren’t happy with what’s going on in your life it’s very understandable that you might want to eat up hours of each day coping by playing video games (or doing crossword puzzles, watching Netflix, or even using drugs/alcohol). Of course, none of these coping methods are healthy if you are talking about maximizing human productivity, but they are functional in that they do provide a respite from constantly thinking and worrying about what’s wrong with your life. This is a very important distinction to understand — it’s sort of like the chicken or the egg, but in this case it’s very important to understand what causes the other.
The well respected Freudian pleasure principle in psychology tells us that human beings seek to gain pleasure and avoid pain in life. This simple life paradigm helps us better understand why some people spend excessive amounts of time playing video games — sometimes at the cost of bettering their lives. Using this framework it’s quite easy to see why playing video games (pleasure) might be chosen more regularly than, say, searching the want ads for a job (not much pleasue). Of course, finding a job should be prioritized over playing video games, but rather than suggest the video gamer is “diseased” with mental illness, shouldn’t we instead focus on the individual learning more effective life skills and stress coping? And furthermore, how would any pill fix a problem like this?
Every shortcoming in life shouldn’t become “psychopathology”
We all have our challenges in life, but quickly calling these challenges “mental illness” is the start of a slippery slope. Not only is this labeling unfair and biased, it also victimizes the individual into thinking he has “something” that he can’t overcome, so why even try? And if we are going to call those who play video games excessively “mentally ill,” should we not extend that type of thinking in the future to include new mental illness categories around excessive cell phone usage, Netflix overload, and Text addiction?
It would be easy to quickly drum up a list of increasingly more absurd suggestions of life challenges that could be turned into mental illness using this approach, but I think the point is made. This idea of quickly morphing unwanted behaviors into psychopathology is a dangerous game, and one that labels people with mental illness and often places them on an endless drug cocktails to treat. In addition, these faux labels make people think they are helpless to their condition, and therefore trying to improve their situation is a futile endeavor. Do your homework, use critical thinking, and ask yourself this: Is what I am dealing with really is a biologically-limiting condition, or instead simply a product of lethargy and undeveloped life skills?