We live in a world connected by increasingly complex and ubiquitous technologies. Something so intimately woven into our daily lives is sure to bring forth both benefits and drawbacks. The effects of technology and social media on mental health are one important area to consider in this discussion.

The Stress of Always Being Reachable

With the prevalence of technology, we are encouraged to always be “on.” We never have an excuse to be unreachable, whether that is by our friends, family, or colleagues. As we navigate a new work-from-home culture, our work-life balance is further threatened. One form of technology that is particularly influential on mental health is the cell phone.

Cell phone use is unavoidable, and this has consequences. Frequent cell phone use is associated with a plethora of physical and mental health effects. Cell phone use is tied to increased stress, symptoms of depression and anxiety, disruption to sleep, loneliness, and feelings of lowered self-esteem. 

Social Media’s Impact on Mental Health

Many people use social media as part of their daily routine. While it can be fun to keep up with what is going on in the lives of friends and family, it creates a minefield of comparison. Social media creates the illusion that everyone is happier, wealthier, more popular, and more successful than we are. It has been shown that rates of anxiety and depression increase when college students have access to social media. Shockingly, the suicide rate in adolescents and young adults skyrocketed by almost 60% in the decade between 2007 and 2017, which is when social media started to become omnipresent in our society. 

For those in recovery from substance abuse, social media can be particularly challenging. It can be almost impossible to avoid seeing images of vacations and parties where alcohol is being displayed. When this exposure is inevitable, it presents the opportunity for triggers. Furthermore, it can cause a feeling of regret or sadness about missing out.

How Technology Benefits Mental Health

It is clear that our increased use of technology has risks that are now emerging. We must also recognize that technology has changed the mental health landscape in positive ways as well. 

Increases Access to Services

There are many barriers that keep people from accessing mental health services that would benefit them. One of these barriers is a person’s location. There are some areas severely deprived of mental health professionals. In these regions, people may have to travel far distances to access care, requiring them to take off work and spend significant amounts of time. This is tremendously inconvenient and even becomes impossible for people without access to reliable transportation. Long waitlists can make care inaccessible, even for people able to make the trip.

Telehealth helps to bridge this gap. While it does not fill the shortage of mental health professionals, it helps connect individuals to care they otherwise would not be able to access. Being able to attend therapy from one’s home can remove other barriers and provide a level of comfort that encourages more people to seek care. 

Provides Access to Endless Information

Mental health has traditionally been an area shrouded in secrecy. Stigma tends to keep people quiet about their experience with mental illness and substance use. This makes it hard for people to learn about their condition and the options available to them. The internet is helping to break down these barriers and connect people to crucial information.

If someone believes they may be developing a mental health issue, they can turn to the internet for a wealth of information and resources. There are screening tools and self-help resources easily accessible that can empower people to understand what is going on and take the appropriate steps toward getting help. While a licensed mental health professional is the best source of information, numerous reputable organizations make important mental health information available for free to guide individuals in the right direction. 

Facilitates Connection

Substance abuse and mental illness can be incredibly isolating. Symptoms can lead to social withdrawal, pushing you away from friends and family members that care about you. You might feel like no one truly understands what you are going through. This isolation can be very painful and exacerbate the issue.

One area where technology has revolutionized mental health is in the social sphere. While social media has potential dangers and disadvantages, many places on the internet provide avenues for connection for people who otherwise might be very isolated. When used in moderation and with caution, internet forums and other similar spaces can help people with certain mental health conditions connect with others who share their experiences.

This can be the first time someone is able to speak candidly about their mental health with someone who is on the same page as them. It can be very freeing to discuss symptoms and experiences with substance use disorder and mental illness without worrying about being judged or needing to explain. In addition to providing emotional support and community, the internet can connect people to helpful resources. Speaking with people who have experience with a certain mental health condition can expose individuals to new resources that can help with their recovery. Although this type of social support is not a replacement for professional treatment, it can benefit individuals and supplement their progress in therapy.

The many benefits and consequences of technology can be difficult to navigate, especially as we continue to learn more about the impact on mental health. If you are in recovery, it is important to know how technology can help and hurt. Family-Centered Services is here to support you and your family as you navigate the recovery process. We offer an array of services delivered by a team of licensed clinicians with expertise in the mental health and substance abuse field. We provide individual and family therapy, a family recovery program, comprehensive case management, sober monitoring, treatment placement consultation, and sober companion transport. Reach out to us at (509) 991-5822 to learn more and take your recovery into your own hands.