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In this episode of Inmathi.com’s ‘Vaer Kaanal’ (Finding Roots) programme — where a problem is taken up and discussed threadbare with an expert — we go into one of the most troubling features of digital life, namely games and gambling, with Dr Sundari K P, a psychologist, practising for the past 25 years. Dr Sundari is the Director of Indusviva Early Learning Centre and a member of Board of Studies for PG Psychology at Chaitanya University.

This episode of ‘Vaer Kaanal’ has taken up the issue of online games and gambles, including the popular online rummy, in the backdrop of about 20 persons having taken their lives over time after becoming addicted to online gambling.

What changes have you seen in the mental health sphere in recent times and what are its implications?
In the past we used to hear about cases of depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. In the past 15 years a new psychological condition has emerged – Impulse Control Disorder (ICD). People with ICD don’t act rationally, but impulsively. Say a person is given a rose. Usually one would get a pleasant feeling and use it in a way that is appropriate to the flower. But people with ICD act on their emotions, and their response to being given a rose may be very different.

Dr Sundari -Director of Indusviva Early Learning Centre

Once we used to hear the word IQ – intelligence quotient. But for the past 15 years, the phrase ‘emotional quotient’ (EQ), has gained currency. Even commercial companies lay stress on EQ, checking their prospective employees’ ability to manage their emotions and use them constructively and positively.

A small psychological test can be conducted to check a child’s EQ and find out whether they have any traces of ICD. In this test, a box of chocolates is kept in a room and a few children are left in the room with the instruction not to touch the box. If a child, despite her inclination to have a bite and maintains her cool, she is found to have sufficient EQ. A child that does not has the potential to develop ICD.  Such children could be seen as disobedient and non-cooperative in schools, colleges and even at home. However, parents of children with such behaviours need not panic, as there are several psychological practices that help build emotional maturity in children.

In the past 15 years a new psychological disease has emerged – impulse control disorder (ICD). People with ICD don’t act rationally, but impulsively.

What has ICD got to do with online games and gambling? 
Attitude toward money is similar to what people feel about food. Some have a healthy relationship with food and can exercise restraint, but others may not, and some may not like food much at all and only eat to survive. Likewise, attitude towards money differs from person to person. A child may not have a sense of the value of money. But as they grow, their mind gets conditioned to the value of money. We instil in them the belief that money matters a lot in the world.

We raise children with the ambition of becoming successful and wealthy.  But that does not mean all of them will grow up daring to do anything, fair or foul, to earn it. There are people content with what they earn. So, just as eating habits differ, what money means to people and how they choose to make it differs from person to person.

In Indian culture, the tendency is to stash away funds for future needs or for the financial security of children when they grow up. So, money and its value are well entrenched in the collective human psyche. People with ICD usually go to any lengths to make a quick buck and mostly it is they who fall victim to online gambling games.

Also Read: Fantasy cricket apps are little different from online rummy

Even in online games, there are people who quit after earning their target money. In such people, the ‘watchdog’ in their brains stops them from going too far, ringing an alarm bell. Some of my friends are like that. I have heard them saying that the moment they earn profit, they quit the online game.

The problem is with people who keep playing to the point of becoming addicts. Once they are hooked, they are unable to come out, as they keep thinking they’ll do better.

The craze for gambling is mentioned in our epics such as the Mahabharat, and has been around perhaps since the dawn of civilisation; only that in this millennium the game has gained digital legs. With the mobile phone ensconced in the palms of the rich, middle-class and poor alike, many are hooked to games like rummy 24×7. In reality, the online game is played between humans and computers. At one point the system does better than the humans. Initially, the system will pretend to get defeated and make one a winner. It is a technique to lure one into playing further and losing everything finally.

The public tends to think of celebrities as a lucky, rich and glamorous lot. So they believe that whatever celebrities say comes from their own experiences, and that it is therefore worth emulating

What kind of guidance can experts like you give to digital game addicts?
Family and friends can help such people. Not long ago, the Blue Whale game claimed the lives of many youngsters. I have been handling several clients with problems like this. For example, a teenager from an affluent family in Belgaum had turned into an internet addict. His zeal for digital games consumed him so much that he could not think of anything else in the world. In another case, a teenager of a rich family settled abroad became so tightly bound in the gaming world that he eventually took his life. The problem is so severe that in Japan there are de-addiction facilities for internet addicts.

Another draw for players is that celebrities promote online rummy and other games. Are they also not to blame for the online game addiction? But celebrities ask in self defence, “When we say good things like don’t smoke or don’t drink, do they heed us? So, will they play online rummy because we ask them to?”

The argument cuts both ways. Yet there is a point worth considering. The public tends to think of celebrities as a lucky, rich and glamorous lot. So they believe that whatever celebrities say comes from their own experiences, and that it is therefore worth emulating. But they forget the fact that celebrities are human too; their lives are also marked by sweat, tears and blood.

Instead of blaming celebrities for the promotion of online games, it is better to control oneself. We have what is called the executive planning side of the brain. It is this part of the brain that helps bring us back to sense when we begin to descend towards the depths of self-inflicted misfortune; just that we must allow that side of the brain to take over.

When the body falls ill, we don’t feel ashamed to go to a doctor. But when the mind feels unwell, we go to temples and not to a doctor for fear of the stigma the society attaches to mental illness.

Also Read: How lottery ban came to be despite internal sabotage in police department

Yet, awareness has been spreading nowadays and seeking help for mental conditions is being destigmatised even as the field of psychology has developed by leaps and bounds. Unlike in the past, more and more people are opting for psychological counselling. Earlier, people took to  unscientific methods such as fanning a bunch of neem leaves and sprinkling sacred ash around to cure mental diseases. Superstitious beliefs that the human mind was being possessed by evil spirits are now being replaced by a scientific and medical understanding. There were times too when mental ill-health was branded as something that the patients deserved; a sort of comeuppance decreed by God.

Much has changed since. Psychological problems or mental ill-health has been recognised as deserving specialised treatment. So, online game addicts must be weaned away through psychological methods. We have to safeguard our children and our young generation. So, I ask the government to somehow or other ban online games and gambling. I make this request not only as an individual, not only as a psychologist but also as a mother of two children.

Dr Sundari signs off with this statement: “Mental health actually begins in the womb itself.”  A cryptic comment? Perhaps not, as it indicates that the mental wellbeing of the parents, particularly that of the mother, is important and that the environment in which the child is nurtured should also be a sound, healthy and mature one.


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