London, Oct. 15: Addiction to sending and receiving text messages and e-mails is coming to be recognised by medical experts as a serious psychological problem, especially among the young, following the case of a 19-year-old youth in Scotland who was sending 700 texts a week as well as 8,000 e-mails a month using his office computer.
The teenager from Scotland, identified only as “Steven”, bombarded his girlfriend, from whom he has since split, with 300 e-mails a day.
Steven’s compulsions came to light when one of his e-mails to his girlfriend was sent by mistake to a colleague at work. When his bosses investigated his e-mail account, they were shocked to discover just how much time he was spending on e-mails.
He was also squandering '4,500 a year on text messages.
Rather than face disciplinary proceedings, the teenager, who comes from Paisley, near Glasgow, resigned and has been referred to a counselling service by his union, Unison, which looks after public sector workers.
Although Steven may have had a particular problem with his girlfriend, it does seem that many young people would much rather send text messages and e-mails than engage in conversation. In some cases, receiving a text or e-mail message seems to boost a person’s sense of self-worth.
Many people will sympathise with Steven’s explanation: “When you look at your mobile and you’ve got a message, you wonder who it could be. It’s kind of comforting when you get one. I like it, it’s like a game of ping-pong as you send one and get one back.”
Philip Irvine, a counsellor at the Renfrewshire Council on Alcohol (RCA) Trust in Paisley, said Steven’s case was exceptional: “We have never come across it before and I’ve been working in this field for 10 years. On any one day, he was sending about 300 e-mails to his girlfriend ' and probably spending '20 to '30 a week on texts.”
He pointed out: “It was all about gaining reassurance from his girlfriend, knowing where she was and knowing what she was doing. In terms of an addiction, that isn’t unusual ' there are often underlying problems, problems at work, relationship problems, stress or not coping, or mental health difficulties.”
Irvine spoke of an improvement in Steven’s case: “He is spending no more than '10 a week on texts, and he has cut down on the e-mails altogether.”
Aware of trends among the young, Renfrewshire Council had introduced text messaging and e-mailing as a way of encouraging greater use of its services by the 172,000 people in its area.
Sarah Gadsden, customer services manager at Renfrewshire Council, commented: “Text messaging is ideal for targeting the teenage market - young people who participated in the pilot told us they preferred the informality of a text message to the formality of a letter.”
There is another side to this, of course. Teachers at school and university often complain that text messaging encourages pupils to use the abbreviated form of English in their essays.
The popularity of mobile phones in India has certainly helped users keep in touch with friends and relatives abroad. In fact, travellers from India reveal an impressive knowledge of phones with global roaming and getting the best value by switching SIM cards.
But will India go the way of the UK where the young now hold virtual and speedy conversations through text messaging'
Dr. Aniruddha Deb, a Calcutta-based psychiatrist, said: “I haven’t come across any cases in India.”
Dr. J.R. Ram, consultant psychiatrist at Apollo Hospital in Calcutta, echoed him: “There are many people who are hooked on it but I have not as yet come across any such addiction cases in India. In any case, if you have an addictive personality, you can get addicted to anything.”
For adults, treatment for compulsive text messaging is now available at the Priory, a south London clinic better known for dealing with celebrities with drug, alcohol and even sex problems.
Dr Mark Collins, the head of the addictions unit at the Priory in Roehampton, said: “There has been a big rise in the number of behavioural addictions, and many involve texting.”
Collins said that some of his patients were spending up to seven hours a day texting. One had developed repetitive strain injury because he spent so much time keying in phone messages. “We have a situation where some people look down on alcoholics and cocaine addicts, but then go and spend five hours in an Internet chatroom.”