Word has just come down that going nuts from the ‘net may become a recognized form of mental illness. The consequences for employers may be significant.
The American Psychiatric Association (“APA”) is adding “Internet Use Disorder” (recommended for further study) to its DSM, which stands for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. According to Abby Ohlheiser of slate.com: “Essentially, they’re saying that some people who spend a lot of time on the Internet demonstrate similar symptoms to people diagnosed with other addiction disorders, and that the psychiatric community should study it and consider promoting it to a full-blown disorder down the road.”
And, according to Natalie Wolchover of livescience.com, the APA’s list of symptoms include:
“a preoccupation with gaming, withdrawal symptoms (such as anxiety and irritability) while offline, the need to spend increasing amounts of time gaming (called “tolerance”), loss of other interests and hobbies, inability to limit gaming time, use of gaming to improve mood, deception of family and friends about extent of use, and jeopardizing opportunities because of gaming.”
How many symptoms do you have?
Employer Take Away: What should you as an employer take away from this development?
To the extent that Internet Use Disorder gets more cachet by being included among other, more commonly-known and accepted mental disorders, your company should take away the point that you may need to take this seriously. Though, to the extent that further study has been recommended, let’s wait a little longer before referring the psycho-surfers to the company’s EAP just yet.
But a larger point can be made here. The federal law on disabilities was amended to protect a greater number of employees, and to cover a greater number of conditions as “disabilities”. It is possible that, if and when added by the APA to its DSM, more employees might claim to suffer from Internet Use Disorder (both legitimately and illegitimately).
Employees will certainly not be entitled to claim this disorder simply as a lawful excuse for surfing the ‘net and avoiding productivity and other workplace requirements. On the other hand, and keeping with my usual “don’t be trigger happy” mantra, your company should not simply cast aside legitimate issues brought to your attention that may require accommodation or other preferential treatment under federal, state or local law. Think about the issues, and at least take the first steps to analyze the situation as you would any time your employee raises a medical-related concern. Even if this particular (and latest) addiction may not appear to be legitimate to you on its face.