The Changjiji youth centre on November 17 organised a youth forum to share with some 15 youth the findings of internet addiction that a team of doctors presented at the recent international conference on medical and health sciences in Thimphu.

The study showed that four out of 10 adolescents are addicted to Internet in Bhutan. Of which, 40 percent of the high school-going adolescents are addicted to internet in the country. The research studied 721 school-going teen-agers

The centre’s manager, Kinley Phub, said poor coping stress, negative thinking, anxiety and depression were some of the main causes for addiction among today’s youth.

He said that many are not aware of internet addiction even if they are suffering from one. “Internet addiction is serious and a growing problem, which deserves more attention.”

Claiming to be an internet addict himself, he said he felt restless, moody, depressed, or irritated when he attempted to cut down or stop internet usage.

“Some also suffer health consequences from loss of sleep, as they stay up late night to chat online, check for social network status updates or to reach the next game levels,” Kinley Phub said.

A participant at the forum, Phub Tshering, who was also an internet addict, said he didn’t talk with anyone for a week when he lost his phone. “I was so depressed and lost my appetite.”

He said that being an internet addict, he often had to lie to his family in order to get money to top up his phone data.

Stress, he said, is another risk factor. “The more stressed you are, the more you will want to escape into an online fantasy world.”

Sonam Dorji, a participant and a volunteer at Care Bhutan, said youth today use mobile phones while walking, eating or even when riding on a bus. “These activities were not previously seen in Bhutan.”

He said social anxiety could also be a driver for excessive internet use. “Youth nowadays check their social media pages hundreds of times to see how many ‘likes’ their latest post earned.”

He said frequent Facebook use tends to increase feelings of low self-esteem rather than making them feel more connected and less socially anxious.

Another participant said he was once an internet-dependent because he was depressed and stressed after his parents divorced. “The only thing I had was my mobile phone and it eventually drained my mind.”

When people are stressed, he said they tend to do what is familiar and wrong instead of what is new and right. He has come out of addiction and is now into sports and volunteerism work.

Sonam Choden