Experts say chronic selfie snapping is now a real condition called 'Selfitis'

Could it be time to take a self-helpie instead?

Could it be time to take a self-helpie instead?

(Getty Images/iStock Photo)

We will take them on a boat. We will take them with a goat. We will take them in the rain. We will take them on the train. We will use our selfie cams, oh we will selfie where we can. If you're resisting my Suessian verse consider that 24 billion selfies were uploaded to Google alone in 2016 - who knows how many lay dormant in smartphones worldwide (although each millennial will likely snap over 25,000 selfies in their lifetime). We humans like selfies, a lot. Well, it's decidedly love/hate but we even take them in precarious places near cliff dropoffs and atop skyscrapers (which has added a new category to mortality data: death by photograph). The case can and has been made that we may also be taking selfies too far. For some, it now threatens to become a disruptive compulsion known as "Selfitis". That's not a bad dad joke, although it did kind of begin as one.

What researchers readily admit started as a hoax has lead to both a study and a push to create a new classification of mental disorder for which sufferers need real help. While it hasn't yet been added to the DSM-5, some psychologists are presenting new data that suggests an update be explored.   

Dr Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction in Nottingham Trent University's Psychology Department, explains: "A few years ago, stories appeared in the media claiming that the condition of selfitis was to be classed as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association." Griffiths adds that while the news piece "was revealed to be a hoax, it didn't mean that the condition of selfitis didn't exist." Suspecting a kernel of truth in the pervasiveness of the selfie phenomenon, Griffiths, along with researchers at Nottingham Trent University and Thiagarajar School of Management set to analyze the psychology of the selfie. Through focus groups that tested the human impetus to selfie in 400 subjects out of India, not only does Griffiths say his data proves "Selfitis" to be an illness worthy of therapeutic attention, he's even pioneered a 100 point scale, the "Selfitis Behaviour Scale", which handily assesses the severity of the affliction. Consider that conducting research with Indian subjects was not accidental: there are more people on Facebook in India than any other country and sadly, they lead the world in highest number of selfie-related deaths.

Rating 20 selfie-related statements as low as 1 (strongly disagree) or as high as 5 (strongly agree) Griffiths' new Selfitis scale apparently reveals three stages of suffering. As the study puts it, "the higher the score, the greater the likelihood of selfitis." Examples of selfie statements worth noting were "I gain enormous attention by sharing my selfies on social media" or "I am able to reduce my stress level by taking selfies" and "When I don't take selfies, I feel detached from my peer group." Should you find yourself wanting to do a self-examination (you can get the full list of questions in Appendix 1 of the study), the three levels of Selfits severity, as defined by Griffiths and his team, are mild or Borderline, moderate or Acute, and full-blown Chronic Selfitis. Have a look at the broad strokes here, #nofilter.

Borderline - A minimum of three daily selfies with none posted on social.

Acute - A minimum of three daily selfies with all posted on social.

Chronic - A minimum of six daily selfies all compulsively and consistently posted on social.

My non-scientific two cents says we've all skirted the edges of Borderline Selfitis on days when we're not sure if we hate our hair, are in need of a little validation or are simply exploring self portraiture, as humans do. There's no shame in being human. Consider too that narcissism and vanity may not play as large a role here as one might assume. Selfies are about documenting our lives as much as they are about seeing if our eyebrows are doing weird stuff or feeling our new shades. Researchers are still unpacking all that fuels our need to feed social media our faces, but Borderline, Acute or Chronic Selfitis may have to do with another human foible: low self-esteem.    

Research associate with Nottingham Trent's Department of Psychology, and study co-author, Dr Janarthanan Balakrishnan confirms, "Typically, those with the condition suffer from a lack of self-confidence and are seeking to 'fit in' with those around them, and may display symptoms similar to other potentially addictive behaviours." Indeed, data showed Selfitis sufferers all shared some telling traits. Their need to constantly post images of themselves in various states of pout or posturing was linked to attention seeking behaviour, a constant drive to boost social status and a desire to feel like part of a specific peer group. As a relevant aside, that need for validation isn't often favoured by others, especially significant ones.

"Now that the existence of the condition appears to have been confirmed, it is hoped that further research will be carried out to understand more about how and why people develop this potentially obsessive behaviour, and what can be done to help people who are the most affected," says Balakrishan. If you're still reserving your altruism for sufferers of other ailments, you're not alone.

Professor of Psychological Medicine at King's College London, Sir Simon Wessely, offered this sharp comment to media: "The research suggests that people take selfies to improve their mood, draw attention to themselves, increase their self confidence and connect with their environment. If that is true then this paper is itself an academic 'selfie'." That's the scientific equivalent of a mic drop. There is also the fact brought up earlier that Selfitis cannot currently be found in any diagnostic manual. Still, it bears mentioning that a proper disorder is marked by compulsive behaviour that consistently disrupts and interrupts lives. Needing to snap a novel pic of your face so badly that you risk life and limb to do it qualifies, as does having to stop more than three times a day to get your face on the Gram (social media influencers and models notwithstanding - that's a job not a compulsion). So maybe keep the chronic clicking to one a day to be safe. If you must take that selfie, and recent history has shown that sometimes you absolutely must, just do it right.

No mention was made in the study as to whether or not Selfitis was considered a genetic disorder but a cursory analysis of clan Kardashian may bolstered funding for further research on the matter.