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Mental health x tech. Help or hindrance?

As the mental health crisis in the UK worsens, so does it scale up the news agenda. From CALM’s #ManDictionary campaign to the WHO’s assertion that 50 million years of work might be lost to mental illnesses by 2030, everyone is clear that something needs to change. Many are turning to technology to either provide solutions, or at least ease the stigma over mental health issues. Others, however, critique the unprecedented hold that technology has on society and the unknown effects this might have on the next generation. Since one in four adults are now diagnosed with a mental illness, we take a look at the role technology has to play in opening the dialogue and forcing this often misunderstood topic into mainstream consciousness.

There’s certainly a growing fear about Generation Z being ‘digital natives’. Unlike the ‘digital immigrants’ before them, they are growing up with insecurities and social pressures never experienced before. The WHO published a study this month that found young people in Britain are some of the ‘most dissatisfied in the world’. 60% of 11-16 year olds reported that they would feel lonely if they couldn’t talk to friends using technology. Yet leading mental health charity, Mind, note that communicating via technology means that people often miss key social signalling that you pick up in face-to-face interaction.

It is not just Gen Z who are struggling to find the perfect balance for technology in their lives. As mobile technology in particular becomes increasingly intrusive, it is accused of being an interruption that corrupts decision-making and creativity. One reaction to this has been the growing interest for mindfulness and 360 wellbeing.

Ironically, technology is now playing a key ‘helping’ role within this trend, through tools such as the meditation app Headspace which made a monk into a millionaire with its 30 million subscribers. Wearables are the next wave of such advances – shoes to help you digitally detox by blocking your apps, or a clip on to help monitor your breathing and keep you calm.

The digital community also form a huge network of support for people suffering from more serious mental health concerns. Author Matt Haig claims that, although they definitely have their downsides for people suffering from depression, Facebook and Twitter can provide a “Samaritans culture: people are there to chat to 24/7”. There are also mental health awareness campaigns, such as such as the brilliant one Vice ran this week last year, #ItAffectsMe or viral images like this woman before and after a panic attack.

Overall, you can’t curate your own mental health as easily as a social media newsfeed. Although technology undeniably helps raise awareness, on a personal level, there’s a balance to be had in using technology to connect with people in real life rather than solely online. It should always be a support rather than a crutch and above all, a relationship that works for you rather than the other way around.