MALIBU – A rehabilitation facility celebrating its grand opening and dedicated to helping people cope with a newly identified tech disorder is already at maximum occupancy, according to site administrators.
“We currently have a six month waiting list, and while I expected a large turnout for our services, it’s a shock to the senses to be fielding so many emails, phone calls and walk-in visits,” said Doctor Melinda McDermott, 57, a psychiatric specialist at the University of California Los Angeles Ronald Reagan Medical Center and director of Healthy Mind, the in-patient clinic designed to treat Nervous Tech Syndrome (NTS), a term McDermott coined five years ago to describe a condition that might be added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the guide medical practitioners use to identify and treat a myriad of cognitive health issues.
According to current scientific literature, NTS is largely believed to be a disease of the mind that includes such psychological symptoms as “… irritability, depression, and/or compulsion when separated from an electronic device for even a short period of time …” and which often coincides with physical symptoms such as, “… pallor from a lack of Vitamin D and/or exposure to sunlight, dark circles and/or bloodshot eyes due to a lack of sleep … which generally cause the victim to behave in a wiry way …”
Doctor Peter Schnell, 52, a family practitioner and one of McDermott’s colleagues at Healthy Mind, said he began noting patients that showed signs of NTS in the early 2010s, before it was identified.
“I remember this young man came into my office,” said Schnell. “He worked in information technology, and he was a self-described video game junkie, and he was also involved with various online communities, as I recall. He was extremely distracted, agitated and jittery, hardly able to keep his eyes on me and away from his phone, even as I tried to ascertain what was wrong with him.”
Schnell said a blood test confirmed the patient lacked sufficient amounts of Vitamin D, easily corrected by suggesting a supplement. However, Schnell said he made additional suggestions to the patient which, in retrospect, he wished he had not.
“I referred the young man to see a psychiatrist about his ‘moodiness,’ as he put it, which I now regret, because it’s clear to me after so many cases that I have seen like his since that a decent diet, exercise and prolonged period of time spent ‘un-plugged’ probably would have had more of a positive impact on the young man’s long-term well-being than sending him to get hooked on some mind-altering drug,” said Schnell.
Indeed, treatment for NTS often entails a modification of one’s diet and an regimented inclusion of various mental, social and physical exercise along with minimizing the influence of technology and unnatural performance-enhancers on the mind and body, with the hope of returning one to ‘homeostasis’ as quickly as possible – which may take more than a year — according to Healthy Mind representatives.
“It’s like anything else, you get what you put into it,” said Schnell. “Those who work the hardest to fight their addiction and its debilitating effects tend to benefit the most from the program.”
However, instilling healthy lifestyle habits in order to minimize the effect of a tech-related disorder can be challenging for doctor and patient alike.
“I use my GPS to get everywhere,” said McDermott. “Unfortunately, we have become so accustomed to technology that many of us literally don’t know how to manage ourselves without it. So, as part of our treatment program, we often find it necessary to teach people how to simply be again, unfiltered and undistracted by any device.”
While McDermott’s diagnosis and program seems to be growing in popularity, there remain many who are skeptical of its need or benefit.
“There is a silent majority out there whose perspective on this issue is not being heard, because they have no issue,” said Sheri Griffin, a psychology professor at California State University Northridge. “They embrace technology and know how to handle it sufficiently, to the extent they see it as a means to enhance their personal fulfillment.”
Griffin, who recently consumed the Install pill and insisted she ‘never felt better’ about her ‘relationship with electronic devices,’ said that what is really at issue is not technology, but discipline.
“Unfortunately, the need for moderation and restraint is one thing technology cannot teach us,” said Griffin. “It’s something we need to figure out for ourselves. Some people do, and some people don’t. For those who don’t, there’s Healthy Mind, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.”
Jeremiah Long, March 3, 2019