With the rise in daily technology use, mental health struggles through a new dimension. Many of these concerns emerge due to the use of technology that has yet to be understood. Studies have already linked anxiety, ADHD, depression, excessive alcohol use, and PTSD to excessive smartphone use. But can technology solve mental health problems, too?
The pandemic saw an exponential rise in the use of technology. It was the only outlet for interaction both during and after working hours. Additionally, during the pandemic, children went to school online. These “new normals” limited peer-to-peer interactions giving rise to new forms of isolation. Currently, there is no future without the use of technology. To move forward, we need to work on solutions that leverage technology to solve existing and new mental health concerns.
Physically, the constant use of technological devices has created poor posture, a rise in carpal tunnel syndrome, and back pain. Additionally, endless scrolling on bright screens can cause eye strain. Solutions such as ergonomic devices were created to deal with these physical constraints. Mental health concerns did not receive similar immediate workable solutions.
This is due to the length of time it takes to observe a shift from balanced mental health. Adults are likely to experience increased isolation following endless scrolling through social media. This may seem counterintuitive since social media was built to bring people together. However, the inability to monitor screen time and the impact of online interactions can be a source of concern.
“Negative interactions online can often lead to anxiety and depression. These interactions are frequently anonymous and, sadly, can continue unchecked for a significant time. All of that can lead to other mental health concerns such as chronic stress and low self-esteem,” says psychotherapist Dainius Jakucionis.
Technological overuse has also negatively impacted the mental health of children and adolescents. A COVID-19 pandemic study with 217 child participants observed that almost 36.9% used digital devices for over 5 hours a day, compared to a pre-pandemic 1.8%.
Another review observed an increase in inattention, poor sleep quality, influence on language development, and social struggles as a negative impact among children who frequently used digital technology.
While a lot of these highlight the negative impacts, solutions also can be found in most of these studies, such as improving interactions and developing usable tech products for the mental health ecosystem.
A key concern to mental well-being is always being connected to a digital device. For work, tracking health, and connecting with peers, devices have shortened the gap. However, at the same time, they limited the disconnect required for one’s mental health. Early reviews on the use of mental health apps for symptoms of depression and anxiety hold promise for modestly reducing psychological symptoms.
Several other benefits of technology have been noted to fill the gaps in mental well-being. One such advantage is tackling the geographical limitations physical counseling requires. With technology, counselors can reach more people requiring help with their mental health.
Additionally, online portals allow for anonymity, which allows for more open conversations. Outside of one-on-one sessions, individuals can have access to chat-based forums often available 24/7. Humanizing these interactions is vital to help improve user experience over time.
Technology aiming to use simple UI can assist with reducing overall cognitive load. Ways to develop this includes increasing the use of images, inclusive language, and reducing clinical jargon. An essential feature of technological apps is their ability to self-monitor continually. This proves useful for those who may have intrusive thoughts often observed with depression or substance abuse.
This makes it crucial to innovate for the surging prevalence of mental health concerns across the globe.
Apps are currently being built to have direct communication with mental health professionals. Several tech products provide guided techniques, such as meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy, such as Sensa, a mental health assistant. It provides guided meditations, breathing exercises, and calming techniques that use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) tools to navigate through anxiety, social phobias, worry, and other mental health issues. However, effectively solving some mental health issues might require additional tools, such as stimulating the vagus nerve, which is responsible for our body’s relaxation.
“Vagus nerve stimulation has been used in medical practice since 1988. At first, it was an invasive procedure, but right now, we can achieve the same result without surgery,” says Vitalijus Majorovas, co-founder of Pulsetto. His company creates a wearable device that works by stimulating the vagus nerve externally. Users can then use the device to manage stress, improve sleep quality, or navigate through anxiety.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 31% of the population struggles with anxiety and depression. Technological apps and products can solve a global mental health crisis. There is currently a worldwide shortage of mental health professionals. It is through technology that such gaps can be bridged.
More collaborative efforts are required globally to address the pitfalls of technology. This can include overuse, bullying, isolation, and other mental health triggers. Enlightening users on the potential benefits and suitability is also key to increased tech usage. Technology is the future that can facilitate healthier mental health ecosystems.