Hertfordshire academics lead International research exploring the damaging effects of the Internet

By Zoe Fripp.

Led by the University of Hertfordshire, a group of researchers want to look into issues such as how gaming and gambling sites have an impact on children, and whether more regulations need to be in place to protect users and stop them growing addicted.

Recently there have been growing concerns over how the internet might affect public health, especially mental health and wellbeing. According to Bob FM, The World Health Organisation has recognised Problematic Use of the Internet since 2014 and it is about to include the new diagnosis of gaming disorder in the forthcoming revised International Classification of Mental Disorders.

The Network’s Chair, Consultant Psychiatrist Professor Naomi Fineberg, from the University of Hertfordshire, said: “This network includes the best researchers in the field, and the network will drive the PUI research agenda for the foreseeable future.

“Problematic Use of the Internet is a serious issue. Just about everyone uses the internet, but information on problem use is still lacking. Research has often been confined to individual countries or problematic behaviours such as Internet gaming.

So, we don’t know the real scale of the problem, what causes problematic use, or whether different cultures are more prone to problematic use than others.”

Professor Fineberg continued: “These proposals are aimed at allowing researchers to identify what we know and what we don’t know. For example, it may be that in cultures where the family is less fragmented they may have fewer problems, but that needs research to determine. Ultimately, we hope to be able to identify those most at risk from the internet before the problem takes hold and to develop effective interventions that reduce its harms both at an individual and public health level.

“There’s no doubt that some of the mental health problems we are looking at appear rather like addiction, such as online gambling or gaming. Some lean toward the OCD end of the spectrum, like compulsive social media checking. But we will need more than just psychiatrists and psychologists to help solve these problems. We need to bring together a range of experts, such as neuroscientists, geneticists, child and adult psychiatrists, those with lived experience of these problems and policymakers, in the decisions we make about the Internet.

“We need to remember that the Internet is not a passive medium; we know that many programmes or platforms earn their money by keeping people involved and by encouraging continued participation, and they may need to be regulated – not just from a commercial viewpoint, but also from a public health perspective.”

Professor Martinotti, also from the University of Hertfordshire, added: “These are questions which need to be answered internationally. The Internet is international, and many of the problems associated with it are international, meaning that any solutions need to be viewed from a global perspective. We need standard methods, so we can make meaningful comparisons”.

The news comes after World Mental Health Day 2018 on the 10 October, with much of the focus being on the well-being of young people and the issues they face. To find out more, visit: https://wfmh.global/wp-content/uploads/WMHD_REPORT_19_9_2018_FINAL.pdf

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