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Technology: A help or a hindrance to our mental health?

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Improvements in technology have had a range of societal benefits, from improving energy resources and utilities, and even introducing artificial intelligence. But can technological improvements benefit our mental wellbeing, and if not, will they ever?

Nowadays you’re unlikely to ever find someone far from their phone, but there have been studies that link excessive mobile-phone and social-media use with poorer mental health, with increases in depression in particular. This is likely due to a decrease in people making real-world social interactions, or perhaps making too many behind a screen, making connections that are broad rather than deep and meaningful. This can lead to isolation, as well as have impacts on physical health that can create a vicious cycle of mental health deterioration. With the rise of social media platforms such as Instagram, there is also the issue of selfies being linked to narcissism, self-esteem issues, attention-seeking behaviour, and even addiction. Given how simple it is to access smart phones and iPads, it’s no surprise that people become addicted to technology- after all, it’s easier to get your hands on than alcohol or drugs.

With the rise of social media platforms such as Instagram, there is also the issue of selfies being linked to narcissism, self-esteem issues, attention-seeking behaviour, and even addiction.

However, technology has meant that larger amounts of data can be accessed. Devices like cell phones, smartphones, and tablets give doctors, researchers and the public new ways to access help, monitor progress, and increase understanding of mental wellbeing. At the University of Warwick, the email counselling service means that you don’t have to travel to the other side of campus to see the counsellors; and as a result the service has become significantly more accessible.

There have been some other technological ideas that may improve our mental wellbeing, such as the use of Virtual Reality. Some more easily accessible technology includes online resources. One such example is YouTube channel called ‘The School of Life’, which covers issues surrounding mental health, among other philosophical topics. One video in particular outlines how ‘Emotional Technology’ can one day be developed to improve mental health. Examples include a mood-reader, designed to give you reassuring advice when you’re angry, low, or in other negative states of mind; a relationship reader to help enable better communication with other people, and a job finder to match you to your optimal career. This resource would certainly relieve some stress for students, and could be more sophisticated than other career advice we currently have access to!

There are also many apps to aid mental wellbeing, such as mindfulness apps and apps that monitor your sleep cycle to help you get a better quality of rest. One should be careful however, since there is no industry standard to measure how well these apps work at improving mental wellbeing. The results from this technology are very individual-dependent and apps are also vulnerable to bugs and getting hacked. Ideally, future apps should be developed to tailor to individuals and combat these issues.

The results from this technology are very individual-dependent and apps are also vulnerable to bugs and getting hacked.

With any technological development there are costs and benefits, and technology’s effect on mental health is not an exception to this. I feel that technology does have an overall benefit on mental health, and is likely to be even more beneficial in the future. Nonetheless it should be used cautiously, and people should be aware of the limitations.

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