The advance of technology is continuing to influence change in all areas of our day-to-day lives. But it’s the affect technology is having on metal health that’s currently attracting the lion’s share of attention.
Since the turn of the 21st century it’s almost certainly been digital technology that’s experienced the most rapid evolution and has had the greatest influence of everyday life. This skyrocketing rise of digital technology has been mirrored by a vast increase in mental health issues. This may at least in part be due to the improvement in both medical and public knowledge of metal health. But many are drawing links between the recent prominence of mental health issues and the omnipresence of new digital technologies.
This is so much the case that ‘digital detox’ has entered the national lexicon and is a practice that more people are undertaking for the sake of their mental wellbeing.
So what exactly are these supposed digital ‘toxins’, what digital technologies are producing them, and how are they affecting our mental health?
And is it all bad?
A generation ago the idea of a portable palm-sized phone-video-recorder-hand-held-computer only existed, if at all, firmly within the realm of science fiction. Today, not only are smartphones science fact, they are found lurking in the pockets of the greater proportion of the population.
We can now get in touch with any of our contacts at any time, anywhere in the world. Millions of apps make our lives endlessly more convenient. ‘Getting lost’ has almost been consigned to the status of an odd facet of days gone by.
But this coin has another, not so pretty side.
The sudden and all-consuming rise of smartphone usage has also brought with it rampant rates of over usage. This is especially true within the younger generations. The sight of young people today, phone in hand, headphones in ears, eyes down, mouths shut and with apparently only one leg still holding a tentative footing in physical reality, is one with which we’re all likely to be familiar. It would appear that ‘Generation Z’ might actually be an abbreviation for ‘Generation Zombie’.
But, though maybe not to the same extent, older generations have found themselves ensnared by the lure of smartphones too. A recent survey has revealed that the average Brit checks their smartphone 28 times a day and one third of us admit we suffer from an addiction to our phones. Worryingly, actual rates of addition are estimated to be much higher.
The term addiction isn’t used lightly here either. Addiction to smartphones and other of digital technologies carries all the hallmarks of traditional addiction. These include cravings, compulsive usage and withdrawal symptoms when access to usage is denied. And like any addiction, smartphone addiction also produces its own unique symptoms: those chronically glued to their smartphones frequently experience difficulty sleeping, problems with maintaining concentration and aggravated feelings of stress. These symptoms can in turn lead to more serious mental health issues including anxiety and depression.
Internet addiction is another of today’s unpleasant novelties, and goes hand in hand with smartphone addiction. Smartphones provide easy access to the Internet, and the Internet adds greatly to the entertainment factor provided by smartphones.
But stumble a little further down the digital rabbit hole and you’ll discover that one of the key drivers of Internet addiction is social media.
Now, like smartphones, social media should not be vilified entirely. Used in moderation the various social platforms can offer an effective means of keeping in touch with friends, making new ones, and exploring areas of interest. Again, the issues largely stem from over usage.
The big problem with social media is the distorted impression of reality that it portrays. People have a tendency to emphasise the positive aspects of their lives on their profiles and in their social posts. As a result, users are presented with a digital world where most others are seemingly happier, more successful and more beautiful than in truth they might actually be. The more time users spend on social media, the more this unreality begins to eclipse actual reality. The imperfection of user’s own lives then appears unduly magnified in comparison to these carefully curated impressions of the lives of others.
This can trigger feelings of low self-esteem, and neuroticism and narcissism can follow in tow. Depression may be an even less pleasant destination further down the line.
Mental Health Apps
As with any tool, whether the effects are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ depend largely on how it’s used. This is just as true of digital technology. The mental health implications produced by digital technology may be more widespread, or they might simply be more apparent to us. But whatever the case, the implications of digital technology certainly seem to overshadow the benefits. But it’s not all doom and gloom.
There are now many digital apps designed to provide help and support to those who suffer from mental health issues. Among the most successful of these is Big White Wall. Launched in 2007, BWW offers immediate round the clock anonymous support to anyone experiencing difficulty with mental health issues.
The support comes in the form of group support, creative expression, educational courses and support offered by professional councillors. 95% of BWW users have reported a subsequent improvement in their mental health, and as the NHS supports the service, access for most Brits is free. BWW is a great example of how digital technology can be used to make access to mental health support quicker, easier and more widely available than ever before.
The sheer scope of technology and its rapid, ever increasing pace of progression makes it impossible to say with any real truth or lasting certainly whether per se it’s having a positive or negative affect on mental health.
It has, and continues to change the way we both contract and deal with mental health issues, throwing up new solutions and new potential dangers with almost equal frequency and vigour.
Smartphones, the Internet and social media are very much a part of our everyday lives now though, so enjoy them, but remain aware of their potential dangers too.