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Selfitis: Addicted to Screen

Youngsters obsessed with selfies and psychiatrists attempting to decode the reasons behind this addiction.

Three months ago when a 25-year-old IT professional was brought to JJ Hospital by her family with complaints of spending “too much time” on internet, the psychiatrist department did not know they could stumble upon ‘selfitis’ — a mental disorder coined only last year by the American Psychiatric Association for people suffering from an obsessive compulsive itch to click selfies

Her case was a chronic one, as she was addicted to posting all her selfies on social media websites, about six every day.

Last week, 18-year-old Tarannum Ansari drowned while attempting to click a selfie at Bandra Bandstand with two of her college friends.

It is a mystery disorder for both — youngsters obsessed with selfies and psychiatrists attempting to decode the reasons behind this addiction.

“When we took her (IT professional’s) detailed history, we found out that the pre-occupation to click and post pictures on Facebook and Instagram had turned into an addiction,” said a psychiatrist attached with JJ Hospital.

When the IT professional was asked to stay away from social websites for two days, she turned irritable. That is when psychiatrists tried to search for the underlying cause for this addiction. “It is low self-esteem. Whenever friends hit the like button on her picture, it would boost her confidence. She started posting pictures more often to feel good,” the psychiatrist said.

The term selfitis is not explained in psychiatry books yet. There is no set treatment protocol. Doctors are attempting to treat such patients by dealing with the associated causes. In this woman’s case, her family and friends were counselled to help her overcome the addiction. She was put on anti-depressants called anxiolytics and counselled to slowly reduce the frequency of selfie posts.

“Like detoxification,” the doctor explains. But unlike drug addiction, where the supply to the patient can be monitored, for selfies, monitoring her cell phone proved difficult. “So I started checking her Facebook posts. She would know I am keeping an eye,” her psychiatrist said.

Three months of counseling, medication and family support reduced the daily posts to one every day. Like her, another 25-year-old IT professional is also undergoing treatment for selfitis at JJ hospital.

Lack of self-esteem, depression, obsession and loneliness spurt internet addiction. It is a new phenomenon even for psychiatrists but we are trying to deal with it by treating associated disorders,” said Dr Yusuf Matcheswala, Head of Psychiatry unit at JJ Hospital.

Like selfitis, screen-addiction and internet addiction is another disorder seeing an escalation not only among youngsters but also in the middle-aged group. A 40-year-old working woman was brought by her mother and son with complaints of staying awake till late night and waking up late. During counseling, she admitted that she checks WhatsApp and Facebook.

“She is a widow and apart from her work, she has only social media to look forward to,” said psychiatrist Dr Kaminidevi Bhoir. The woman was so addicted she would carry her cellphone even to the washroom. Her mother complained she would forget house chores because of constant distraction towards the phone.

“Such patients are in denial mode initially. They do not feel they are addicted,” Bhoir adds. The 40-year-old was given psychiatric counseling on prioritising what is more important and on giving more time to her family.

Bhoir has received over 50 patients suffering from screen addiction in the last one year. She explains it is a constant urge to keep looking at a screen, at computer during work, at mobile in local trains during transit, and at TV at night. A 35-year-old wife recently brought her husband, aged 40, with this disorder.

On counseling, he admitted he was addicted to watching porn whenever he was free. He had three terabyte worth porn. “His addiction to watch porn continued for hours every day. When he was asked to stay away from screen, he turned angry and irritable,” Bhoir said.

The businessman was counseled about reducing it gradually every day. While he initially resisted any treatment claiming he was alright, it took a lot of persuasion and counseling to make him understand the vices of screen addiction.

Patients enter a virtual world. Such people have zero inter-personal relationship,” explains psychiatrist Sagar Mundada.

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