Sun, Jun 15, 2014 - Page 5 News List

Singapore grapples with smartphone addiction in youth

AFP, SINGAPORE

People use smartphones while traveling on the Mass Rapid Transit train in Singapore on April 30.

Photo: AFP

Easily distracted? Cannot be separated from your smartphone? Constantly checking your device for no real reason? Chances are you are an addict — and you may even need professional help.

Psychiatrists in Singapore are pushing for medical authorities to formally recognize addiction to the Internet and digital devices as a disorder, joining other countries around the world in addressing a growing problem.

Singapore and Hong Kong top an Asia-Pacific region that boasts some of the world’s highest smartphone penetration rates, according to a report last year by media-monitoring firm Nielsen.

About 87 percent of Singapore’s 5.4 million population own smartphones.

In the US, where there are similar concerns about the impact of smartphones on society, a 65-percent penetration rate would not even make the top five in Asia Pacific.

Singaporeans also spend on average 38 minutes per session on Facebook, almost twice as long as Americans, according to a study by Experian, a global information services company.

Adrian Wang, a psychiatrist at the upmarket Gleneagles Medical Center, said digital addiction should be classified as a psychiatric disorder.

“Patients come for stress anxiety-related problems, but their coping mechanism is to go online, go onto social media,” Wang said.

He recalled having treated an 18-year-old male student with extreme symptoms.

“When I saw him, he was unshaven, he had long hair, he was skinny, he hadn’t showered for days, he looked like a homeless man,” Wang said.

The boy came to blows with his father after he tried to take away the young man’s laptop computer.

After the father cut off Internet access in the house, desperation drove the boy to hang around neighbors’ homes trying to get a wireless connection.

He was eventually hospitalized, put on antidepressants and received “a lot” of counseling, Wang said.

“We just needed to break the cycle. He got better, he was discharged from the hospital and I saw him a few more times and he was OK,” Wang added.

Tan Hwee Sim, a consultant psychiatrist at The Resilienz Mind clinic in Singapore, said that the symptoms exhibited by her young adult patients have changed over the years.

Obsession with online gaming was the main manifestation in the past, but addiction to social media and video downloading are now on the uptrend.

“Internet addiction as a disorder is not even listed in our latest psychiatric manual, it’s only listed in the appendix as a disorder that requires further study,” she said.

In terms of physical symptoms, more people are reporting “text neck” or “iNeck” pain, according to Tan Kian Hian, a consultant at the anesthesiology department of Singapore General Hospital.

“It is a commonly observed phenomenon that many people have their heads lowered and are now using their mobile devices constantly on the go, while queuing or even crossing the roads,” Tan said.

Singapore’s problem is not unique, with a number of countries setting up treatment centers for young Internet addicts, particularly in Asia, where South Korea, China and Taiwan have moved to tackle the issue.

In South Korea, a government survey last year estimated that nearly 20 percent of teenagers were addicted to smartphones.

China already has an estimated 300 Internet addiction centers, according to a report on state broadcaster CCTV’s Web site in February. It also cited a survey showing there may be more than 24 million young Chinese addicted to the Internet.

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