Health
The Psychology department of Rajagiri College of Social Sciences in Kalamassery has inaugurated Kerala’s first internet de-addiction centre.
Flickr via Creative Commons

Do you need to check your phone for alerts every few minutes? Is your internet usage keeping you up at night or away from school? Forgotten what your real friends and family look like because of all the time you spend on social media? You could be suffering from internet addiction, a growing public health issue.

In order to tackle the problem being reported particularly among young people, the Psychology department of Rajagiri College of Social Sciences in Kalamassery, on September 19, inaugurated a pioneering Healthy Internet Technology Experience Clinic (HITEC), as part of the new Centre for Behavioural Sciences Clinic. HITEC is Kerala’s first internet de-addiction centre.  

“We’ve noticed that internet addiction has increased among college students,” shares Divya Prabha, assistant professor at Rajagiri College. “Especially at Rajagiri College itself, there are a lot of students who are addicted to the internet. In everything that they have to do, including research, research-related activities and assignments, more importance is being given to the internet,” she adds.  

Divya mentions that the clinic will operate on certain hours a week. “The sessions will be held in the afternoon, on Saturday from 2 to 5 pm. During that particular period, only those people having this particular issue will be taken care of. On all other days, regular consultation for other psychological issues will be continued at the Centre for Behavioural Sciences Clinic.”

Dr Manoj Sharma, additional professor at the Service for Healthy Use of Technology (SHUT) clinic at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) in Bengaluru, has been running a similar service in Bengaluru since 2014, and gives us some insight on how activities at HITEC may be carried out when patients begin trickling in.

“Based on inputs of users and family members, we at NIMHANS had found that we should start such a service to raise awareness about the issue of internet addiction, train manpower to deal with this issue and to continue our research in this area. Thanks to media and more awareness about this issue, we’re getting about ten cases per week,” Manoj says.  

He says that the majority of patients at SHUT are online gamers, social media users and some people who are addicted to online pornography. “Most of them are in the age group of 16 to 19. Though we have seen patients as young as 11 and 12, these are a rarity. Most are in this majority age group,” he adds.  

He says that a person is considered addicted to the internet if their internet usage causes social, physical or behavioural changes or if their behaviour meets the 4 Cs: Craving (for internet when not in use or not able to connect to the internet), loss of Control (over time spent online), Compulsion (they have to check every four to five hours) and Consequences (like physical, social or behaviour symptoms of overuse).

Dr Manoj laid out the process through which they carry out de-addiction in patients. “Since most of our patients are children and young adults, they don’t seek the treatment themselves. They’re brought in by their parents because they feel there is a decline in their academics or there is a change in their self-care, outdoor activities or communication, or they get aggressive or threaten self-harm if the technology is taken away from them,” he shares.

Dr Manoj adds most of the children who join the programme are in denial during the first session and claim that they don’t have any problem. “So, what we do initially is hold a clinical interview, just to understand them and then we conduct a clinical assessment, which gives us some quantifiable scores about the quantity and type of usage. We can show them the quantifiable data and scores and tell them that they fall in the addiction category.”

He mentions that the de-addiction activities are tailored to the particularities of the specific age group they most commonly see and the de-addiction is based on lifestyle changes.

“We work on their sleep timings, how they can work on morning schedules which can involve increased attendance in schools and colleges, increased interaction with parents and making certain slots of the day where parents, as well as the patients, will not use the mobiles, so they can increase face-to-face communication. We bring in some physical activities to their daily routine and we educate them that after every half an hour of internet or mobile usage is the time to take a break so that the physical dysfunction of excessive use can be reduced. Since we’re not advising that their mobile phones be taken away, they feel quite comfortable to carry out these lifestyle changes. Once they start these lifestyle changes, we automatically see a reduction in their internet use also,” he adds.

Parents are also part of the de-addiction process. “For the parents also, we conduct psycho-education, we tell them instead of just talking about mobile phones, they should talk to them about something that the child enjoys and to try to fulfil the needs that the children get from internet uses through other means: like appreciating them, giving them more validation and building a sense of physical community with their family and friends instead of the online community.”  

He reports success in cases where the patient is retained (or comes back for follow up visits or stays in touch with the doctor through telephone) and when the patient is willing to cooperate in the treatment process. “If they’re using the internet for 10 hours, we see them reduce to maybe four or five hours. So, we generally achieve a 50 to 60 per cent reduction in most cases.”

Dr Manoj adds says it's a very positive step that clinics like the HITEC clinic in Kerala are being opened and that there’s a growing awareness around the issue of internet addiction.