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Web addiction shock therapy banned

THE Ministry of Health has ordered a hospital in Shandong Province to stop using electric shock therapy to cure young people of Internet addiction, saying there was no scientific evidence that it worked.

Linyi Mental Health Hospital in Shandong used the treatment as part of a four-month program that had so far treated nearly 3,000 young people, China Youth Daily reported yesterday, citing psychiatrist Yang Yongxin who runs the facility.

The ministry said in a statement posted on its Website late on Monday there was no domestic or international clinical proof that electric shock therapy helped cure Internet addiction.

Experts organized by the ministry conducted research and questioned whether the therapy was safe.

According to psychologists, symptoms of Internet addiction include being online more than six hours a day - playing games and looking at pornography and other sites rather than working or studying - and becoming angry when unable to get online.

Severe depression

The ministry ordered the Shandong health authority to suspend clinical licenses for the therapy.

If any institute wanted a license for scientific research, it must apply to health authorities, and patients who participate in the research should not be charged, the ministry said.

Electric shock therapy was most often used to treat severe depression and psychiatric disorders, psychiatrists said.

But Yang Yongxin - dubbed "a national Web-addiction expert" by addicts' families - is the first to use it to treat Internet addiction.

At Yang's Linyi hospital center, electrodes are attached to the patient's hands or temples and electric shocks of between 1 and 5 milliamperes are administered. Patients are also treated with psychiatric medication.

The electric shocks, although painful, do not affect the brain or damage the body, according to Yang.

The shocks were used as a punishment for any patient in the center who broke any of the 86 rules drafted by Yang, according to China Youth Daily. Yang would administer shocks to patients who went online for long periods, consumed cola drinks or locked themselves in the bathroom.

These behaviors, when linked with electric shocks, would later be associated with unpleasant sensations, he told the newspaper.

He said the shocks were randomly administered, with one or two at most per patient.

While most parents of addicts have embraced the therapy, concerns have been expressed by medical experts, who say it is unclear if Web addiction is a psychiatric problem.

A Linyi hospital spokesman, Yang Shuyun, told Beijing News newspaper that it had stopped administering the shock therapy after seeing the health ministry's comments.

Yang said it was only part of a program to treat patients, which also included medicine and psychological counseling. Patients were charged 5,500 yuan (US$805) a month.

Shanghai had not introduced this therapy to treat Web addiction, Shanghai Mental Health Center said yesterday. The center uses psychological counseling and medication in its treatment for the problem.


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