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The Selfitis Syndrome

The obsession with taking selfies has proved fatal time and again, but the trend is far from dying out. In fact, its gravity has only been increasing with several physical and mental risks attached to it

“There have been times when I’ve made cab drivers wait because I could not get the perfect selfie before leaving home,” says Rashmi, a 23-year-old. Coming from a small town of Himachal Pradesh and landing in a popular all-girls college of Delhi University, everything felt like a breeze of fresh air to her. The environment of her college, her friends, the new hang-out places and her new avatar, everything contributed to her thinking more about how she could register this in her phone gallery.

It was during the first month of college when Rashmi started taking pictures from her new smartphone. What was first only a habit, became an obsession and later made her question whether it is narcissism.

“It all started with one good selfie, which became a habit and later turned into an obsession. All I could think about sometimes, was to take one good selfie and feel happy about it,” says Rashmi. She recalls how her friends began telling her to stop doing this in class and in the college canteen while eating.

When she used to be out with her friends, she would ask them to take the ‘perfect shot’ of herself or ask them to join her. “There have been times when I had a little fight with them when they couldn’t take good pictures,” says Rashmi. She felt that all the time she spent on dressing up and makeup went in vain and she did not like it.

“My boyfriend who’s not at all a fan of clicking pictures or being clicked used to get irritated at times. I used to nag him constantly to take pictures of me and also take selfies of us,” says Rashmi.

Rashmi used to take five-six selfies in a day, some in her room, some in the trial room of a clothing store and some in her class too.

Not only would she fill her phone’s gallery with these selfies, but also upload them on social media platforms. “I used to worry a lot about whether my photos would get sufficient likes and whether I will be considered desirable. This really affected my mental well-being,” says Rashmi.

In order to enhance the selfies, Rashmi found apps which would help her ‘beautify’ those selfies. “During that time, I had around five-six apps in my phone, which I used extensively for trying out different filters,” says Rashmi.

Later, when her friends realised that this is becoming a habit, they told Rashmi not overindulge in taking selfies. But she continued with her obsession, which made her friends eventually avoid her company.

Five months later she realised that it was wrecking her personal life and mental peace. While scrolling through her phone gallery she realised that almost all the photos are hers. The first thing she did was to buy a cheap phone, which did not have a camera. “It was tough in the beginning but gradually I got used to it. I had to get rid of my obsession,” says Rashmi.

She was told by her friends that she stopped for good, and it was a serious issue. Today, Rashmi is a working professional and she still takes selfies, but “very rarely”.

For her, clicking photos nowadays is only about capturing the special moments in her life. “I somehow feel I was close to becoming a narcissist and I stopped at the right time,” she concludes.

The current internet age, despite all its advantages, has ended up adding several other addictions in the list of the age-old ones like drinking and smoking.

A recent study published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, explored a word — “selfitis.” — that surfaced online in media reports.

A study was later conducted, involving 225 Indian students, to explore selfitis. It empirically examined the three levels of the disorder — borderline, acute and chronic — as mentioned in the reports.

Selfitis was broken down into six factors by the researchers. Starting from environmental enhancement, social competition, attention seeking, mood modification, self-confidence to social conformity.

The study demonstrated that “selfie-takers appear to feel privileged to connect with the environment via a selfie. In fact, the participants took numerous selfies after the focus groups had finished, perhaps to provide a memory of the experience or to feel good about the research they had just been involved in.”

“We mostly get two types of cases in our clinic. Internet and mobile use are the two cases we deal with frequently. Both are excessive and problematic,” says Dr Yatan Pal Singh Balhara, associate professor of Psychiatry, AIIMS (Delhi).

He says that there are two common causes for these cases, first is excessively using social media and second is taking pictures, which includes selfies too. “These are behavioural addictions. There are people who are overdoing it by putting themselves in danger for the thrill,” added Dr. Singh.

According to Dr Singh, “Sometimes, it’s also the pressure of letting others know how cool and happening your life is.” He says that taking selfies is normal, but one should be able to regulate it and have control over it. If one cannot, then it can be termed an addiction.

In his clinic, he gets to see patients belonging to the age group of 16-26 years. He also says that most of the patients are brought by their parents or friends. After the initial assessment and checking whether the person is displaying this problematic behaviour, he recommends the therapy.

Essentially, the therapy includes medicines and psychotherapy and in some cases he found that the patients were also suffering from social anxiety and lack of confidence. A patient undergoes 8-10 sessions, each session lasts for 40-45 minutes.

Dr Singh says that once the therapy cycle is completed, it does not result in entirely putting an end to the behaviour. “It’s not like we never want them to click selfies again, but we only want to make it a healthy behaviour that is within a normal range,” added Dr Singh.

One such instance is the recent Amritsar train mishap where at least 59 people died after a train ran over the crowd standing on the tracks. In the footage, it was seen that some people standing on the tracks were nonchalantly clicking selfies.

Many political leaders including former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah condemned the act on twitter and called it a “mindless and entirely avoidable tragedy.”

On October 22, reports surfaced showing Amruta Fadnavis, wife of Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, “clicking a selfie dangerously.” A video of her clicking a selfie on India’s first cruise liner ‘Angriya’, is doing the rounds on social media and is heavily being condemned by people. Fadnavis allegedly ignored police warnings and crossed the danger zone on the deck to take a selfie against the backdrop of the sea.