Singapore grapples with smartphone addiction

SINGAPORE - Easily distracted? Can't be separated from your smartphone? Constantly checking your device for no real reason? Chances are you're an addict - and you may even need professional help.

Psychiatrists in Singapore are pushing for medical authorities to formally recognise addiction to the Internet and digital devices as a disorder, joining other countries around the world in addressing a growing problem.

Singapore and Hong Kong top an Asia-Pacific region that boasts some of the world's highest smartphone penetration rates, according to a 2013 report by media monitoring firm Nielsen.

Some 87 per cent of Singapore's 5.4 million population own smartphones - as Internet-capable phones with cameras are popularly known.

In the United States, where there are similar concerns about the impact of smartphones on society, a 65 per cent penetration rate would not even make the top five in Asia Pacific.

Singaporeans also spend on average 38 minutes per session on Facebook, almost twice as long as Americans, according to a study by Experian, a global information services company.

Adrian Wang, a psychiatrist at the upmarket Gleneagles Medical Centre, said digital addiction should be classified as a psychiatric disorder.

"Patients come for stress anxiety-related problems, but their coping mechanism is to go online, go on to social media," Wang said.

He recalled having treated an 18-year-old male student with extreme symptoms.

"When I saw him, he was unshaven, he had long hair, he was skinny, he hadn't showered for days, he looked like a homeless man," Wang told AFP.

The boy came to blows with his father after he tried to take away the young man's laptop computer.

After the father cut off Internet access in the house, desperation drove the boy to hang around neighbours' homes trying to get a wireless connection.

He was eventually hospitalised, put on anti-depressants and received "a lot" of counselling, Wang said.

"We just needed to break the cycle. He got better, he was discharged from the hospital and I saw him a few more times and he was okay."

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