Wednesday, May 29, 2024

A Chhattisgarh tragedy spotlights perils of technology addiction: Insights and solutions

A harrowing incident unfolded in the district of Khairagarh-Chhuikhadan-Gandai (KCG) in Chhattisgarh’s Rajnandgaon, shedding light on the concerning issue of information and technology addiction (ITA) among adolescents and its potential consequences. Last Friday, a 14-year-old girl allegedly took the life of her elder brother, aged 18, after a dispute over her mobile phone usage. The tragic event occurred in Amlidihkala village under Chhuikhadan police station limits.

The siblings were alone at home while the rest of the family was out for work. According to the official statement, the brother reprimanded his sister for conversing with boys on her mobile phone and instructed her not to use it further. Enraged by his scolding, the girl purportedly attacked him with an axe while he was asleep, resulting in his immediate demise due to severe throat injuries. After committing the crime, the girl proceeded to cleanse herself and her clothing of the bloodstains before alerting neighbours to the tragedy. Upon police interrogation, she confessed to the heinous act, and authorities detained her for further investigation.

The altercation between the siblings appears to have been triggered by the girl’s excessive use of her mobile phone, particularly for interacting with boys, which her brother disapproved of. Excessive screen time and online interactions can exacerbate conflicts within families, as seen in this case and many such cases that come to us at the hospital. The brother’s attempt to restrict his sister’s mobile phone usage likely stemmed from concerns about her well-being and safety, but his approach may have further fueled resentment and rebellion in the girl, ultimately resulting in a tragic outcome.

Excessive use of digital devices, such as smartphones and computers, can profoundly impact an individual’s psychological well-being and behaviour. This dependency often leads to internet and technology addiction (ITA), which notably impairs judgment and impulse control. When individuals prioritize virtual interactions over real-life responsibilities and relationships, boundaries blur, compromising their ability to make sound decisions.

We see that her excessive mobile phone use, particularly for interacting with boys, sparked conflicts within her family. Her brother’s attempt to intervene and restrict her phone usage likely heightened tensions, triggering feelings of anger and frustration. As ITA escalates, withdrawal symptoms such as irritability and restlessness emerge, sometimes culminating in aggression. The girl’s violent response reflects a manifestation of impaired judgment and impulse control exacerbated by her dependency on technology.

Simultaneously, anticipatory anxiety, known as “NoMophobia” or no-mobile-phone-phobia, adds another layer of complexity to this issue. This fear of being without a phone leads to constant unease, with individuals fearing disconnection from their devices. Such anxiety prompts compulsive behaviours, like incessantly checking for notifications or avoiding situations where phone use is restricted.

This dependence perpetuates anxiety, fueling the need for constant reassurance through phone presence. Addressing anticipatory anxiety requires cognitive-behavioural techniques to challenge irrational beliefs and gradually expose individuals to restricted phone scenarios. Additionally, fostering healthy coping mechanisms and reducing reliance on phones for emotional regulation is crucial.

What are the implications of Internet Addiction?

Dr. Kimberly S. Young, a pioneering psychologist, has spearheaded the investigation into Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) since 1998, establishing the initial diagnostic criteria for this mental health concern. Presently, there’s widespread agreement among researchers and clinicians about its detrimental impact. Internet and technology addiction alters brain function akin to substance use disorders, necessitating concerted efforts to address and mitigate its consequences.

Over the past two decades, there has been a noticeable surge in problematic and compulsive internet, digital media, and smart device usage, leading to widespread agreement among researchers and clinicians about its detrimental impact. Notably, the dopamine releases associated with internet and technology addiction elicit brain structural changes akin to those seen in individuals with substance addictions, impairing decision-making, reasoning, cognitive function, emotional processing, and memory.

Moreover, internet and technology addiction correlates strongly with mental health disorders such as impulse control disorder, ADHD, anxiety, increased substance use, and depression. Beyond mental health implications, it heightens the risk of cardiometabolic diseases, disrupts sleep patterns, increases fatigue, and contributes to insomnia—factors linked to elevated mortality rates. Alarmingly, those with problematic internet use exhibit significantly higher rates of suicidal thoughts, planning, and attempts compared to the average population.

These findings underscore the gravity of internet addiction. While some may downplay its impact compared to substance abuse, it’s evident that internet and technology addiction alters brain function akin to substance use disorders, necessitating concerted efforts to address and mitigate its consequences.

Categories of Internet Addiction

While we’re all susceptible to a common affliction, its manifestations vary from person to person. Below are some prevalent compulsive behaviours related to internet and technology usage. It’s important to note that this compilation isn’t exhaustive or direct. Rather, it serves as a guide to recognizing personal compulsions or excessive internet habits, often best discerned with the assistance of experienced individuals in recovery.

1. Social Media Addiction: This involves the compulsive use of social media platforms, including but not limited to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat, Discord, Reddit, and Pinterest. Addictive behaviours may encompass excessive scrolling, posting, messaging, or seeking validation through online interactions.

2. Streaming Addiction: This pertains to the compulsive consumption of content on streaming platforms such as YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Twitch, or TikTok. Individuals may excessively binge-watch videos, movies, television shows, or podcasts, often at the expense of other responsibilities.

3. Phone Addiction: Characterized by the compulsive and detrimental use of smartphone devices and apps, this addiction extends to any mobile smart devices like watches or tablets. Behaviors may include excessive phone usage, compulsive notification checking, or reliance on devices during inappropriate times, such as while studying, working, or driving.

4. Video Game Addiction: This refers to obsessive and unhealthy engagement with video games, encompassing computer, console, phone, or online gaming. Individuals may exhibit addictive behaviours such as excessive gaming sessions, neglecting real-life responsibilities, or engaging in compulsive spending related to gaming activities.

5. Porn Addiction: Involves addictive consumption of digital erotic content and potentially harmful digital sexual behaviours. This includes viewing pornographic videos, images, or written content, engaging in cybersex, visiting anonymous chat rooms, or using dating apps excessively.

6. Information Addiction: This entails an addictive and unhealthy attachment to researching and consuming information online. Behaviours may include compulsive consumption of news, incessant scrolling through social media feeds, excessive online shopping, or obsessive online research, such as product or health-related inquiries.

7. Shopping Addiction: Similar to information addiction, shopping addiction involves compulsive and excessive online shopping. Individuals may find themselves constantly browsing e-commerce websites, making unnecessary purchases, and experiencing financial difficulties as a result.

8. Workaholism: While not solely technology-based, workaholism often intersects with technology addiction. Individuals addicted to work may compulsively check emails, messages, and work-related apps even during non-work hours, leading to burnout and strained personal relationships.

9. Selfie Addiction: With the rise of social media platforms focused on visual content, some individuals become addicted to taking and posting selfies. This addiction can lead to a preoccupation with one’s appearance, seeking validation through likes and comments, and neglecting real-life experiences in favour of maintaining an online image.

10. Streaming Music Addiction: Similar to streaming video addiction, individuals may become addicted to streaming music platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, or SoundCloud. Excessive listening can lead to neglect of other activities, reduced productivity, and even auditory fatigue.

11. Cyber Relationship Addiction: This addiction involves compulsive engagement in online relationships, whether through social media, dating apps, or online forums. Individuals may prioritize virtual connections over real-life relationships, leading to isolation and emotional detachment from offline interactions.

12. Online Gaming Communities Addiction: Apart from video game addiction itself, individuals may become addicted to the social aspects of online gaming communities. Spending excessive time interacting with fellow gamers, participating in forums, or watching gaming streams can lead to neglect of real-life responsibilities and relationships.

Here’s a quick checklist to self-assess if you or someone you know might be struggling with internet and technology addiction (ITA):

Disclaimer:

It’s important to note that only a qualified clinical psychologist or mental health professional can provide an accurate diagnosis of internet and technology addiction (ITA) or related mental health conditions. The following questions are intended as a self-assessment tool and should not replace professional evaluation or diagnosis. If you find yourself struggling with any of these issues, it’s essential to seek support from a licensed mental health practitioner or counsellor.

1. Do I ever go online to quickly check something and then discover that hours have passed?

2. Do I ever swear off or set limits around a particular app or online activity, and then break my commitments?

3. Do I have internet and technology binges that last all day or late into the night?

4. Do I reach for my devices whenever I have free time?

5. Does my internet and technology usage lead me to neglect my personal hygiene, nutritional needs, or physical health?

6. Do I feel isolated, emotionally absent, distracted, or anxious when I’m not online?

7. Does my internet usage contribute to conflict or avoidance in personal relationships?

8. Have the negative consequences of my internet usage jeopardized my studies, finances, or career?

9. Do I hide or lie about the amount of time I spend online or the kinds of digital content I consume?

10. Do I feel guilt or shame about my internet use?

If you find yourself answering yes to several of the above questions, it might be time to seek help from a professional mental health expert. Digital Detox Helpline Initiated by NIMHANS

The National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) in Bengaluru started first-of-its-kind services under the SHUT clinic (Service for Healthy Use of Technology (SHUT) and a helpline for digital detox, acknowledging the rise of technology addiction in the country. The helpline, operated by Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma and his team, aims to create awareness about excessive technology use and promote digital hygiene, helping individuals strike a balance between online and offline activities.

Dr Sharma, who has over a decade’s experience in dealing with behavioural addiction in his recent workshop for practitioners emphasized the importance of consistency in detox programs and suggested practical tips for reducing screen time. 

The helpline, 9480829675, operates from 9:30 am to 1 pm on Fridays and offers support for those struggling with technology addiction.

Here are some practical tips for incorporating a digital detox into your routine:

1. Schedule regular breaks away from screens throughout the day. Set an alarm to remind yourself to take a walk or step away from your desk for at least 30 minutes during your work schedule.

2. Consider deleting problematic apps from your phone, either temporarily or permanently. Identify which apps are causing the most addiction and remove them to reassess their necessity in your life.

3. For severe addiction cases, or children, consider downgrading to a simple cell phone with limited features to reduce dependency on smartphones.

4. Establish a specific time each day to turn off your phone completely. This can help create boundaries and promote better sleep hygiene.

5. Use the “Do Not Disturb” feature on your phone during dinner and a few hours afterwards to minimize distractions and encourage quality time with family or friends.

6. Adjust your phone settings to limit the usage of certain apps, such as setting screen time restrictions or enabling app timers.

7. Designate “No Phone” areas in your home, such as the bedroom or dinner table, where phones are not allowed. This can help foster better communication and connection with others.

8. Implement uniform rules for phone usage among family members to promote consistency and mutual respect.

9. If you find it challenging to detox from technology on your own, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional for support and guidance.

For additional assistance, a digital detox helpline is available at 9480829675. The helpline operates on Fridays from 9:30 am to 1:00 pm.

The incident highlights the urgent need for addressing ITA among adolescents and promoting healthier relationships with technology. Mitigating the negative consequences of excessive digital device usage requires comprehensive interventions and support systems to safeguard mental health and interpersonal relationships in an increasingly digitized world.

Preventive measures such as parental guidance, setting limits on screen time, and promoting healthy offline activities are essential in addressing ITA and fostering balanced digital habits among young people. Additionally, providing education and support on interpersonal communication skills and conflict resolution can help mitigate the negative impact of excessive technology use on familial relationships and prevent such tragic incidents from occurring in the future.

Zulekha Shakoor Rajani is a seasoned Counseling Psychologist at Mind and Brain Hospital, Bangalore, a renowned psychiatric super speciality Hospital. Armed with a diverse educational background, Zulekha holds bachelor’s degrees in Psychology, Literature, and Journalism from Mount Carmel College, Bangalore, along with a Bachelor’s in Education (B.Ed.) and a Master’s degree in Psychology.

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