Doctors at Erada Rehabilitation centre reveal new department to help treat those affected.
Children as young as 10 are becoming addicted to social media and may need treatment to prevent lasting damage, experts have warned.
Dr Abdulqader Al Khayyat, chairman of the Erada Rehabilitation Centre, said over-exposure to games, apps and other web platforms could impact emotional development.
In an interview with The National, Dr Al Khayyat said recent studies had linked significant social media use to sleep deprivation, anxiety and depression.
He urged parents to be more wary of the potential problems of online use and confirmed a new department at his centre had been established to help treat those affected.
“Children’s exposure to social media, online programmes and violent games can be severely damaging to their development,” he said.
“Limiting their exposure gives them the opportunity to explore their hobbies and become more socially active with their peers.”
The Erada Rehabilitation and Treatment Centre was opened in Al Khawaneej in Dubai in January last year. Since then, officials have not only treated drug addicts and alcoholics, but have also dealt with those suffering from overexposure to online tools.
According to a recent survey conducted by the UAE National Media Council, 48 per cent of Emiratis use social networking apps, with 42 per cent of Arab expats and 37.4 per cent of all other nationalities also admitting to being subscribers.
And out of the 3,133 responses, 71 per cent of young people in the UAE said they used social media on a daily basis.
Dr Al Khayyat confirmed several issues lie behind social media addiction, including weak family ties.
“Youngsters need to be educated about social media platforms and its risks in schools,” he said.
“It must be part of their curriculum, especially seeing as misuse of social media platforms can land a person in jail.
“Family members need to talk to each other more. Can you imagine that some families actually communicate with each other via WhatsApp while they’re at home?”
Claudio Marianti di Pergola, Chairman and Co-Founder of Vibe, a new rehabilitation centre in Tuscany, Italy, which helps treats addictions and mental health disorders, added: “We would classify social media addiction as a behavioural disorder rather than a psychiatric disorder.
“Conscious thought and decision-making contribute to the condition which sets it apart from other mental disorders. It can be compared more closely to substance abuse or an eating disorder.
“Depending on how serious the individual is affected by their use of social media, a person might suffer from sleep deprivation and anxiety.
“It has the potential to develop into a full-blown anxiety disorder, bringing with it a host of different issues including panic attacks, chest pains and exacerbated or irrational fears.”
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Under UAE law, those found guilty of committing cybercrime could face up to life imprisonment or a fine of between Dh50,000 and Dh3 million.
Source: The National