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In June 2009, when HTC launched the Android-operated smartphone in India, the child reported by this newspaper as amongst the country’s youngest mobile phone dependants was barely a toddler. The nine-year old, who turned suicidal after being deprived of his smartphone, is being counselled at Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. But the diagnostic manual of psychiatrists doesn’t yet have a formal moniker for the child’s condition. Mental health experts, the world over, however, do recognise that as people use the smartphones for work, play, entertainment, information, education, paying bills, the effects are not always positive. The convenience afforded by the myriad apps on the smartphone is empowering. But as the pocket-sized information banks become central to our lives, they also affect our physical and mental health. The desire for hyper-connectivity has created a compulsive attachment to the gadgets and the consequences cannot be taken lightly.
A 2014 study by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurological Sciences (NIMHANS) found obsessive mobile phone surfing as the most common form of internet addiction, with people in the age group of 14-35 most prone to such addiction. Very often, the blame could be laid at the doorstep of parents. It’s not uncommon for parents to view mobile phones or tablets as substitutes for kids’ toys. It’s also not unusual for kids to turn their attention to virtual car racing or shooting games on the tablet while they are using the gadget to do their homework. Mental health experts see the germs of mobile phone addiction in such behaviour.
In India, only the NIMHANS and a few private hospitals like Sir Ganga Ram have facilities to deal with mobile phone addiction. The telecom, human resources and health ministries and private medical bodies should join hands before mobile phone addiction becomes a serious public health issue.