The idea that technology negatively affects mental health has been well publicized – whether it’s the effects of social media or simply the fact that tech keeps us from getting the sleep we need to feel well.
But the other side of the story should be examined – can technology actually help with mental health?
Historians of our minds
A recent Ted Ideas piece by tech expert Chris Dancy detailed three ways in which technology helped him to handle anxiety and depression.
The first way was to use it to make notes which can be referred back to at any time in the future. These notes kept details of panic attacks, the physical and mental symptoms as well as time and place, so that he could become the ‘historian’ of his own attacks.
This had the advantage of proving to himself, during an attack, that he has come through them before.
It’s worth adding to this that notes can be used in a different way:
During a bout of anxiety, our minds run away with wild thoughts that we feel obliged to deal with – no matter if we’re at work, in a social situation or anywhere else where an attack is highly inconvenient.
Along with the inconvenience, it is often impossible to deal with these thoughts rationally when our brain is choosing to be irrational. Noting down the fears and worries we’re having, so that we can confront them later at a more rational time, makes it easier both to deal with the anxieties and to live a more normal life.
Dancy’s second use of tech is ‘Binge-watch hurt to feel you’re not alone.’ This sounds like it could be similar to the much maligned ‘Doctor Google‘ – a rabbit hole in which we turn to the internet to help solve our problems, but endless random sites with poor information just make it worse.
But Dancy says that watching videos of people talking about having similar mental health problems helped him to realise he ‘wasn’t alone in the world.’
Of course, the possibility to expand this idea and join reliable forums and health groups should also be very helpful to many people.
Our phone keeps great info
Dancy’s final point gets into some deep tech. He suggests that we could use our phone’s own records as a diary of what makes us happy versus depressed or anxious. We could use the phone’s function that shows which apps have used what amount of battery in the last 24 hours, the last week, or however long.
By cross-referencing this with how we have been feeling recently, we can see which apps make us feel good or bad.
“For instance, if you notice you’ve been feeling better than normal, chances are the apps listed in the last 24 hours are radically different from the apps you’ve used in the past seven days. The opposite is also often true: if you’re feeling blue, your app usage may have changed,” Dancy writes.
“The next time you’re feeling great, take a screenshot of your battery percentages and try to keep track of your happy apps — whatever you’ve been spending more time with lately that has kept you feeling good (and not feeling bad). More important, when you start feeling a bit low, pull up your list of happy apps and try to use those apps that bring you joy.”
There are many things that could be added to these ideas. These include simple things like tech allowing us instant access to vast amounts of music – as well as the possibility to connect to people we care about wherever they may be.
Loneliness is one of the leading causes of mental and physical health problems, and even if we’re not generally lonely then connecting with someone we care about can help with mental health.
One final point worth mentioning is online therapy. Many people might never have considered old-school therapy, i.e. going to a therapist’s office once a week. Plenty of others simply can’t afford it.
But reliable online therapy with genuine experts is becoming much more widespread. Although still relatively expensive, it is much cheaper than location-based therapy. What’s more, plenty of therapists have plans which mean they will respond quickly to our messages whenever they receive them, rather than everything being condensed into an hour a week in the traditional way.
However we choose to use our devices, we should remember that although technology can be harmful, it is also extremely helpful.