Mental Health and Technology

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In our increasingly interconnected world, the relationship between mental health and technology continues to evolve. Even with more and more people turning online for support and information, technology invariably has its pros and cons to mental health awareness and treatment.

How Technology Helps Your Mental Health

Technology has undoubtedly made it easier to access pertinent information and obtain resources for mental health education, awareness and even treatment.

Using Mobile Applications and Outreach Support

Today, there’s an application available for everything from managing your finances to editing your selfies to ordering your favorite restaurant takeout. And yes, with that said, there’s also an application to manage your mental illness.

You can receive professional support from licensed therapists via Talkspace, manage  your trauma symptoms with PTSD Coach and even track your daily mood with Pacifica. Mobile applications continue to evolve and even change the way we integrate mental health treatment and recovery into our overall daily living.

This relationship between technology and mental health helps to provide those with limited or no access to standards mode of  therapeutic treatment due to location or financial hardships. Mental health guidance may just be a few fingerprint swipes away. This is even true for major crises, like suicide intervention. Those struggling with life-or-death decisions no longer have to speak on the telephone speak; there are options to text or chat in real-time with trained professionals for crisis intervention and treatment referrals. Today, your app store offers many different kinds of supportive applications with mental health guides, live chat options, forums, self-paced education and more.

When you’re online, you’re never really alone. This could be one of the driving reasons why 15% of Internet users connect through online message boards and forums. T human connection is an important part of our development and life. When you have the ability to communicate with others on nearly any issue, from struggles with infertility to depression to weight loss, that connection evolves.

Applying Virtual Reality to Treatments

Virtual reality (VR) technology continues to advance in helping users simulate real-world environments. Applied to mental health treatment and recovery planning, this type of technology development has begun to change traditional approaches.

In fact, a virtual reality lab at the Ottawa Hospital is experimenting with motion-assisted, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in veterans. The results have been promising. Engaging veterans in this mode of active therapy provides an unconventional mode for decreasing the anxiety in response to triggering sounds and images. The University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies has implemented its Virtual Iraq/Afghanistan exposure therapy approach in over 60 trained locations. These technologies allow clients to undergo safe, evidence-based exposure therapy via virtual scenarios guided by a trained therapists.

As technology advances and improves over the years, many experts hypothesize that we are only on the brink of the virtual reality iceberg.

Harming Self-Regulation - Negative Effects of Technology on Mental Health

Unfortunately, there are negatives that come with increased technology use, and it can be revealed as a form of self-regulation problems and mental illness development.

A recent longitudinal Duke study shows that adolescents who spend more time on their electronic devices experience more conduct problems, such as difficulty paying attention and increased fighting and lying. And, that’s not to mention the raising rates of internet addiction. The Associated Press found that people spend nearly 11 hours per day engaging with electronic media. These numbers continue to rise with the rampant usage of smartphones.

While the American Psychiatric Association has not formally listed Internet Addiction as a mental illness in the latest DSM-V, they acknowledge the growing number of people showing internet addictive tendencies, in the sense that users depend on the internet for social interaction, entertainment and shopping.

After all, we turn to our phones for everything - it’s often the first thing we reach for in the morning and the last thing we touch at night.

Social media can play a grim role in technology’s impact on mental health for both teenagers and adults.

A recent Scope study found that 62% of Facebook and Twitter users felt “inadequate” compared to other social media studies, and 60% reported feeling jealous. In their recent Stress in America study, the American Psychological Association found that 45% of “constant online checkers” feel disconnected from family as a result of their electronic habits. The “constant online checkers” also reported being less likely to spend time in person with friends and family.

Are we becoming more connected or disconnected? This philosophical debate doesn’t actually seem to have a clear answer. Yet, we all know that being “plugged in” all the time can make it harder to stay present with friends and family in the real moment.

Even the powerful, social media company, Facebook, released its own newsroom research, indicating that passively consuming information (reading without interacting) can lead people feeling worse afterward.

The overarching consensus? Too much of anything can be a bad thing.

Integrating Technology into Your Mental Health Treatment

The National Institute of Mental Health recognizes the growing relationship between technology and mental health. As technology continues to evolve, this trend will continue to emerge. It’s important for both mental health clinicians and consumers to understand the benefits and risks associated with electronic media.

In the future, mental health treatment and technology will likely be even more interlinked, as more consumers turn to online applications and augmented, virtual reality therapies for treatment. With that said, research should continue exploring both the short-term and long-term risks associated with increased technology dependence.

*Please note that the authors and editors of this article are not medical professionals. You should consult with your doctor if you have a mental or medical health concern.