Mental Health And Technology

This week is Mental Health Week and here at Balance Books we were interested in the affects that technology may be having on our Mental Health, specifically the mental health of our young people. There are certainly many positive benefits in the use of technology with improved communication, transport and business, as well as accessible education, and a multitude of other useful and favourable aspects.

The impacts on the mental health of our young people, however, are still being realised. There have been a huge multitude of studies done already on how technology may be affecting us. Professor Starcevic, Head of Psychiatry at the University of Sydney Nepean Clinical School explains it well when he says that we are inside a living experiment because we don’t know yet what effects the changes in the way we communicate with each other, as a result of the pervasive use of social media and smartphone devices, will have on our interpersonal relationships.

Some research has found that the overuse of digital technology may affect brain development, sleep, mood, concentration, memory, learning and relationship behaviours. Also, psychological issues such as distraction, narcissism, expectation of instant gratification, and even depression. Beside affecting users’ mental health, use of technology can also have negative repercussions on physical health causing vision problems, hearing loss, and neck strain. Keep in mind these affects are from overuse or excessive use. Professor Starcevic says, “There’s a distinct difference between someone who plays video games a lot and someone who has a gaming addiction. Problematic online gaming can be defined as gaming that is so excessive that it results in neglecting school or work or creates conflicts in relationships, disruptive sleep patterns and unhealthy eating habits.”

Research has also found that users of social media might experience increased levels of social dissatisfaction and unhappiness as a result of comparing their happiness and popularity to that of their friends. They are also more likely to be socially isolated. It has also been found that spending extended periods on social media is associated with depression in young adults. Compared with people who checked social media less frequently, frequent checkers were 2.7 times more likely to develop depression. More than a quarter of study participants were classified as having high indicators of depression.

Parents often struggle to balance familial and digital connections, and they can face a constant battle trying to limit their child’s screen time. The importance of parental technological monitoring is only heightened by evidence such as the link between handheld screen time and speech delays in young children, the connection between mobile device addiction and depression and anxiety in college-age students, and the association between exposure to smartphone screens and lower sleep quality.

However, screen time for kids is not all bad. Research examining more than 120,000 adolescents found that evidence linking the relationship between screen time and well-being is weak at best, even at the highest levels of engagement. The findings, published in Psychological Science, suggest that moderate screen use has no effect on the well-being of teenagers.

What is more, a study published in Psychiatric Quarterly found only a small association between excessive screen time and levels of teenage depression and delinquency.

So, what is the takeaway from all of this? The saying ‘everything in moderation’ is true. Take care of your mental health and be mindful of the mental health of others. Attempt to live your life in balance and help your children learn how to do this as well. As life can be extremely busy for most of us it is important to make our mental health and wellbeing a priority. If you struggle to know what to do to create balance here are a few ideas:

  1. Value yourself: Treat yourself with kindness and respect, and avoid self-criticism. Make time for your hobbies and favourite projects, or broaden your horizons. Do a daily crossword puzzle, plant a garden, take dance lessons, learn to play an instrument or become fluent in another language.
  2. Take care of your body: Taking care of yourself physically can improve your mental health. Be sure to: Eat nutritious meals, avoid cigarettes, drink plenty of water, exercise, get enough sleep.
  3. Surround yourself with good people: People with strong family or social connections are generally healthier than those who lack a support network. Make plans with supportive family members and friends, or seek out activities where you can meet new people, such as a club, class or support group.
  4. Give yourself: Volunteer your time and energy to help someone else. You’ll feel good about doing something tangible to help someone in need — and it’s a great way to meet new people.
  5. Learn how to deal with stress: Like it or not, stress is a part of life. Practice good coping skills: Try One-Minute Stress Strategies, do Tai Chi, exercise, take a nature walk, play with your pet or try journal writing as a stress reducer. Also, remember to smile and see the humour in life. Research shows that laughter can boost your immune system, ease pain, relax your body and reduce stress.
  6. Quiet your mind: Try meditating, Mindfulness and/or prayer. Relaxation exercises and prayer can improve your state of mind and outlook on life. In fact, research shows that meditation may help you feel calm and enhance the effects of therapy.
  7. Set realistic goals: Decide what you want to achieve academically, professionally and personally, and write down the steps you need to realise your goals. Aim high, but be realistic and don’t over-schedule. You’ll enjoy a tremendous sense of accomplishment and self-worth as you progress toward your goal. 
  8. Break up the monotony: Although our routines make us more efficient and enhance our feelings of security and safety, a little change of pace can perk up a tedious schedule. Alter your jogging route, plan a road-trip, take a walk in a different park, hang some new pictures or try a new restaurant.
  9. Avoid alcohol and other drugs: Keep alcohol use to a minimum and avoid other drugs. Sometimes people use alcohol and other drugs to “self-medicate” but in reality, alcohol and other drugs only aggravate problems.
  10. Get help when you need it: Seeking help is a sign of strength — not a weakness. And it is important to remember that treatment is effective. People who get appropriate care can recover from mental illness and addiction and lead full, rewarding lives.