There is no direct relation between suicide and online gaming, a leading Indian psychiatrist has told the Tamil Nadu government through a detailed representation.
Dr Sandip H. Shah, Professor of Psychiatry and Dean, Government Medical College, Panchmahals, Godhra, Shri Govind Guru University, has recently concluded an independent research on ‘Suicide and Online Gaming’, which observes that suicide is a complex issue with many reasons for suicidal ideation.
The study has been peer reviewed by Dr. Ajay Chauhan, MD, Medical Superintendent, Hospital for Mental Health, Ahmedabad. According to the research, coincidence and even some correlations are not equal to causation.
In order to introduce a fresh legislation to regulate online gaming, the Tamil Nadu government had constituted a committee and invited inputs from all stakeholders,including general public, parents, teachers, students, youth, psychologists, social activists, and online gaming service providers. The inputs were to be submitted by August 12.
The research led by Dr. Shah was carried out in public interest and is meant to advise governments against harsh legislation based on misinformation. The research suggests that there is insufficient data within the public domain to conclude that a suicide has been caused by online gaming. It calls for a ‘rational’ regulation that is based on further studies from the medical and scientific communities.
“There isn’t sufficient data available both before and after online gaming was legalized to correlate suicide with online gaming,” the research concludes.
According to the research, there are unintended consequences of strict regulation, which may push online gaming underground, leading to individuals facing potential stress and physical harm/threats, causing possible suicidal ideation from desperate situations. Further, questionable debt-collection practices prevalent in underground gaming worsens the situation. The research recommends a collaborative effort between regulators, private companies providing online gaming services, and the medical and scientific communities to rationalize regulation.
The research extensively covers numerous key aspects, such as how suicide is a complex issue caused by multiple factors, statistics on suicides in India, suicide prevention policies and strategies, specific cases reported in the media, online financial frauds, the need to involve all stakeholders, and the infrastructure support and intervention required to prevent suicides in India.
Unlike betting, online gaming, when operated by legalized and responsible operators, offers users the thrill of playing a game, applying their knowledge and skills,and competing against other players in a healthy environment. It is known to strengthen the cognitive abilities of players.
The study observes, that mental health in India is not taken as seriously as in other countries. The reason for this is that in India, even today, people with severe mental illnesses often turn to temples and shrines first, and not to doctors. The foremost reason for individuals in India to lose their mental health is the lack of awareness and sensitivity about the issue. Furthermore, there is a considerable stigma around people suffering from any kind of mental health issues. Therefore, it should be noted that correlation is not equal to causation in the context of suicide. Suicide is a complex, issue with many reasons and causes for suicidal ideations.
This issue requires a case-by-case, detailed analysis of an individual, taking into consideration their medical, psychiatric histories, their personal, professional social lives, etc. An individual, be they a student, farmer, or homemaker, needs to be considered, but more importantly the social determinants, i.e. the society and community, also need to be addressed as they play an important role in the individual’s mental health.
According to the Million Death Study (MDS), one out of 77 Indians above the age of 15 years is at risk of dying of suicide by the age of 80 years. The risk is higher in men (one out of 59) than women (one out of 100). The risk is especially high in South India (one out of 29 men and one out of 56 women) compared to other parts of India. A disproportionately high 42 percent of suicides in men and 40 per cent of suicides in women occur in four southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu which together constitute 22 per cent of India’s population.
Though there is no sufficient empirical data to make a definitive conclusion, this finding is consistent with observations in other parts of the world that increasing modernisation, possibly leading to greater isolation and the breakdown of family support systems, is associated with high suicide rates while traditional societies have lower suicide rates.
The study further notes that available data from Tamil Nadu, may not be enough to conclude that online games are responsible for pushing the youth towards a suicide epidemic. An insight in this complex issue can be gained by conducting more in-depth research with a larger sample, a relevant, robust, and validated study design to try and identify the root causes for such suicides instead of merely relying on the hyped reports that may be misleading.