The relationship, both positive and detrimental, between digital use and mental health is increasingly being examined. On the positive side, technology is now making it easier for healthcare professionals to collect wellness data and provide mental health support. Mobile devices such as smartphones, computers and tablets are not only providing physicians and researchers new ways to monitor progress, access help and enhance mental well-being, but they also provide these opportunities to you.
On the other hand, increased digital use can have a potentially detrimental mental health impact on you, particularly in areas of reduced social skills, increased cyber bullying and heightened isolation. When you use technology in excess, it can result in obesity, depression, sleep disruptions and more.
Social media has increased the sense of belonging for some, kept families separated by miles and oceans connected and has opened the perspectives of many. On the flip side, harmful tweets, sharing of incriminating photos and damaging Facebook posts have caused some to bury their faces even more into their devices.
Below we share with you the pros and cons of increased digital use and mental health. But first, we’ll set the stage by providing you with a definition of mental health and enlightening statistics relating to its relationship with technology.
Mental Health Defined
Simply put, mental health is your state of well-being. Being mentally healthy can mean many things, including that you:
- realize your own potential.
- are capable of being productive.
- can cope with everyday stress.
- are able to contribute to your community or society at large.
Mental health includes your psychological, emotional and social well-being affecting how you feel, think and act. It can affect how you relate to others, handle stress and make choices. It’s essential at all stages of your life from being a child to adulthood. As you go on in life, if you’re struggling with a mental health issue, it can affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Poor mental health can even cause you to develop a substance abuse addiction and a co-occurring disorder.
There are several factors that can contribute to your mental well-being, including:
- Abuse, trauma and other life experiences.
- Brain chemistry, genes and other biological factors.
- History of mental health issues in your family.
Mental health issues are common — however, you can always get help here at 12 Keys Rehab to manage them.
Technology and Mental Health Statistics
Each year, there are millions of people in the United States who are struggling with a mental health condition. Below are some statistics regarding the impact and prevalence of mental illness as well as digital use involving mental health:
- Each year, there are around 43.8 million American adults, or 18.5 percent, that suffer with a mental illness. That’s around one in five adults.
- Each year, America loses around $193 billion in earnings due to severe mental illness costs.
- The health care industry now has over 165,000 mobile apps, with mental-health disorders being the biggest category, helping people with a wide range of issues from depression to addiction.
- The mental health category in healthcare has approximately 800 apps for the smartphone.
Health care app development has grown significantly because of the excitement over the opportunities they present. You can find thousands of these types of apps in both Android and iTunes app stores, with more coming each year.
Technology and the current digital world we live in offer a great deal of potential to both you and mental health clinicians. However, there are also a number of concerns it raises as well. Below are some of the pros and cons of digital use in relation to mental health.
Pros of Digital Use and Mental Health
There are many positives with respect to digital use and mental health to both you and professionals. These include:
Finding Answers and Support
If you’re a parent, there’s no doubt your teen is open to an entirely new world with technology. They can find virtually any answer to any question simply by searching the internet. This includes answers to social situations they’re facing and emotional issues as well.
Being More Connected to Others
Individuals, particularly teens and young adults, are now more connected. In fact, in one week, a social networking site was used by 90 percent of college students. There is a lot of human interaction on social sites, albeit not always face-to-face — unless it involves Skype or something similar.
Not Needing Face-to-Face Mental Health Appointments
Another reason why technology is growing in popularity in mental health services is that more mental health services can be provided without the specialists having to physically examine you like they would in a face-to-face encounter.
Advances in the digital world are helping clients who are struggling with a mental health condition. If you or a loved one is in crisis mode, you can immediately text for help. Mental health conditions can be diagnosed and treated through teleconferencing aids as well. Even if you live in a remote area, you can get the support you need from a health care specialist for your mental health condition.
Now these care models have become more advanced over the years and have evolved. For instance, ER departments in a hospital are able to establish telepsychiatry assessment programs and have a virtual network of professionals in the mental health field that can provide services to remote and underserved areas.
Behavioral Healthcare published an article that showed how patients who were surveyed felt that telemental health was effective and credible and their satisfaction was no different than what it is during a face-to-face mental health consultation.
Using Mental Health Apps
Technology is advancing every day. Mobile apps, including mental health apps, are becoming more sophisticated. For instance, some apps may collect the average patterns of behavior information by using the built-in sensors of your device. If the app detects a behavior change, it could possibly signal that you require help before you face a real crisis. There are some mental health apps that help with thinking and memory skills, while others help connect you to a health care professional or counselor.
Health care professionals and developers have been working diligently to leverage the smartphone’s functionality and develop apps to help them in research, whether it’s using facial recognition, sensors or GPS tracking. Cognitive technology now provides the mental health industry with the constant evolving paradox of machine learning for the advancement of cognition levels in devices people use on a daily basis.
And many professionals would agree that effective therapy contains human interaction, which makes these apps beneficial. In fact, clinical research shows that both phone and web-based apps can actually treat anxiety and depression.
Some advancements in mobile mental health apps include:
A self-management app allows you to plug in certain information so you can receive feedback. For instance, you can use the app for developing tools to manage sleep problems, stress or anxiety, or you can have it remind you when it’s time to take your medication.
Improving Thinking Skills
This type of app helps you improve your thinking skills, or cognitive remediation. It’s geared towards clients with more severe mental conditions. With cognitive remediation, the goal is to enhance your everyday functioning based on the connection between functional and cognition results. Although computers have been used for several decades for cognitive-enhancing strategies, presenting stimuli and providing feedback, technological advances have come very far.
With the internet and mobile technology being used more often by people with severe mental illnesses, tailoring innovations like these to benefit this population and to complement more traditional cognitive remediation just makes sense.
This app helps you learn new thinking and coping skills. You can do a variety of different things on it such as watch an educational video on the importance of social support or anxiety management. There are learning activities that utilize behavioral strategies so you are able to gain independent living and social skills, helping you function better in your community.
Research conducted on social skills-training supports the effectiveness of apps like this for mental health conditions such as schizophrenia. This training strengthens your competence and social skills, which helps compensate for and weaken cognitive deficits, stressful events, social maladjustment and neurobiological vulnerability. This enhances your coping skills and improves your quality of life.
Supported Care and Illness Management
These apps offer you extra support by allowing you to interact with other people. You can engage with a health care provider who can offer you therapy options and guidance or connect with peer support.
Other mobile health care app advantages include that they:
- Offer convenience: You can receive treatment anywhere, whether you’re at home, at work or in bed during the night. It’s a great solution if you find it hard to make it to face-to-face appointments.
- Provide anonymity: You’re able to access treatment options anonymously and without other people being involved.
- Help with starting care: If you’ve been avoiding mental health services before, this technology could be a great starting point to get the care you need.
- Aid with financial concerns: Mental health apps cost far less than face-to-face care, and some apps are even free.
- Help to treat more people: Mental health providers are able to treat more people who are in remote areas or treat a large number of people at one time who are in desperate need — for example, a terror attack or natural disaster.
- Generate interest in use: This solution may appeal to you more than traditional treatment, which will likely encourage you to continue therapy.
- Offer round-the-clock care: You can receive 24-hour intervention and monitoring support.
- Provide uniformity: The same treatment program can be offered to all users with this technology.
- Administer support: This type of technology can help to complement standard therapy by reinforcing new skills, offering monitoring and support and extending a face-to-face session.
The biggest advantage of this technology, perhaps, is that there are millions of people in the U.S. who struggle with substance abuse disorders and mental illnesses, but have limited local mental health care providers available to address their issues.
Mental health app technology doesn’t appear to be an obstacle, but rather an aid. Because of the internet and social media, most people have already learned how to establish and build strong relationships through technology.
In the past, you would call a distant relative over the phone once a week, month or year to re-establish that emotional bond. Today, however, it’s as simple as a text message or video Skype chat to stay connected. Now, you can have this same regular interaction with your counselor or therapist.
Also, professionals now benefit from electronic health records (EHRs). With EHRs, emergency room doctors can quickly learn that a patient who came in with a broken arm may also be suffering from bipolar disorder and might not be taking his medication. This technology connects different treatment teams, reduces the need for filing or faxing paperwork and can quickly determine the amount the insurance company will pay for the patient.
Cons of Technology and Mental Health Issues
Technology causing mental illness is a concern since it can impact your health negatively as well. For instance, if you’re connected to technology too much, it can cause psychological problems like expecting instant gratification, becoming distracted and even developing depression. It can also affect you physically causing hearing loss, vision problems and neck strain, to name a few.
Here we provide you with some technology and mental health drawbacks, including the following:
A study involving 263 students was conducted to see if their study habits were distracted by technology when studying in their homes for 15 minutes. During this study, the students barely made it six minutes staying on task before they became distracted by technology in the form of texting and checking social media sites.
Providing Instant Gratification
With the advancement of technology, patience takes a back seat. To prove this, UMass Amherst conducted a large study whereby 6.7 million users were studied. The results showed that online videos would be abandoned by the viewers if they took longer than a couple seconds to load.
The need for instant gratification is reinforced with things like a Facebook status, Instagram photo or a tweet that gets immediate feedback. Virtual-world instant gratification can lead to huge frustrations and poor choices in the real world.
Diminishing Social Skills
Social difficulties can arise when you interact with technology too much and don’t interact with humans as much when face-to-face. Stanford researchers conducted a study on girl participants that showed how too much time with technology and multitasking resulted in difficulty socializing and lower self-esteem in the girls when compared to those who are not driven to media as their peers.
Reducing Face Time with People
Overusing technology can also lead to face-to-face contact isolation. Even though Twitter, Facebook and texting do have the potential of reducing social isolation, they don’t involve face-to-face contact communication. Because of this, many people are finding it hard to understand facial expressions because there isn’t a balance between online and face-to-face communication.
Initiating Cyber Bullying
With the increased use of technology comes an increase in cyberbullying. This means vicious emails, texts posts, videos or images on social sites that harm another person.
Increasing Isolation from the Real World and Others
If you are hunkered down constantly in your phone, you’re involved less in face-to-face contact with other people. If you’re always tweeting or posting on Facebook, the thought is you’re spending more time on chit chat and less time having meaningful conversations and deep relationships with others.
Developing Physical Conditions
Physical health issues related to technology include the following:
- Neck Strain. You put extra strain on your neck muscles when you bend your head to look down, particularly with laptops. When you hold your cell phone, you tend to hunch, and this creates poor posture for your neck. You even have to hang your head down when you text on your cell phone.
- Computer Vision Syndrome. Also known as digital eye strain, computer vision syndrome is when you have a group of vision and eye-related issues due to excessive use of your cell phone, computer or tablet. The eye strain can be caused by digital screen glare, poor lighting, uncorrected vision problems, poor posture and incorrect viewing distances. The magnitude of how you’ll experience these computer vision syndrome symptoms typically depends on how often you look at a digital screen and your current visual abilities.
- Hearing Loss. You may be content plugged into your iPhone or iPod listening to music, but it can harm your ears. You can experience ringing in your ears, or tinnitus, or hearing loss by listening to earbuds too loud. Once damaged, your hair cells don’t grow back in your inner ear. Approximately 26 million, or 15 percent, of Americans who are ages 20 through 69 years old have some type of reduced hearing capacity because of exposure to loud sounds, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
- Sitting Syndrome. The total screen time over the past couple decades, whether it is playing video games, watching TV or using computers, has increased significantly. This can also change human behavior by leading to people sitting more and moving less. This increases the risk of sitting syndrome and contributes to the sedentary behavior many people have today.
- Sleep Disruption. Studies have revealed that the stress hormone cortisol is stimulated by media devices in the daytime, which can limit your body’s production of the sleep hormone, melatonin. When you use your tablet or smartphone excessively, especially at night before you go to bed, it can disrupt your sleep. It’s recommended by experts that you stop using any of your screens at least one hour before you go to bed.
- Obesity. Over 25 years ago, Harvard research had already linked television watching with obesity. After this, there has been more research conducted that confirms this fact. Since there is a good amount of evidence that cutting back your television time can help you control your weight, it’s recommended that you limit your television time to a couple hours each day. This includes your media time as well.
Developing a Technology Addiction
Technology addiction is yet another potential mental health disorder, although it still needs further research. In the past, it was Internet Use Disorder (IUD), but now technology use has spread to smartphones, social media and video gaming. In an attempt to understand how IUD affects you neurologically and how it can be treated, researchers are continuing to study it.
In fact, research has pointed out to scientists, health professionals and researchers that technology addiction has an effect on your brain in connecting with your cells and in the areas of your brain such as executive control, attention control and emotional processing. Surprisingly, researchers are seeing that these brain changes are similar to what happens when you’re addicted to substances like special K and heroin.
Developing the Fear of Missing Out (FoMO) Syndrome
Another form of this addiction is “fear of missing out,” which is typically more common with people under the age of 30 years old. Social acceptance and presence have always been a concern for this crowd. However, FoMO is now an even bigger concern with the ever-increasing popularity of social media.
What You Can Do
One way to reduce the negative effects that technology has on your teen — if you’re a parent — is to limit your teen’s media time and balance it out with their face-to-face interactions. You should also encourage more physical activity. This can benefit not just their physical health, but their mental health as well.
With that said, engineering and research teams are working hard to address these negative mental health and technology-related issues and are developing and testing apps that help with a number of different mental health issues such as teaching coping skills, managing symptoms and overcoming depression, anxiety, insomnia and other mental health conditions. Although these apps are becoming more user-friendly and more appealing, there is still a lot to learn about how effective they are.