We love to put things in boxes. Broccoli goes in the good box. Cake goes in the bad box. Water is in the good box. Soda is in the bad box. Yoga? Good box. Netflix? Bad box. We feel guilty about ‘bad box’ things, and proud of ‘good box’ things.
It makes sense to put technology in the “bad” box. However, the box mentality is a bit restricted: whether something is good or bad doesn’t necessarily depend on the thing, but on how much of thing, and in what way you use the thing.
When it comes to technology, especially phones, we need to recognize both the detrimental effects technology has had on mental health, but also the potential of tech to powerfully impact wellness for the better — the answer is not to resort back to an agrarian society and hear from your friends via carrier pigeon.
We need to explore the ways in which technology can be used to mitigate its own damage. But more than that, we need to figure out how technology can go beyond merely fixing things to making things extraordinarily better.
Technology, used right, has multiple benefits — and some are already being utilized.
1. Technology is Neutral
In a systematic review on barriers to young people getting help in Australia, the number one barrier was the stigma associated with having a mental health issue. Digital health initiatives, like mental health chatbots, can remove the embarrassment from getting help. An AI psychologist may come in the form of an app or an add-on, and may have natural conversation options or provides mental health activities. A chatbot is less intrusive than going to a human, and also won’t judge their client. Sometimes it can be much easier to talk to a bot.
Another major barrier uncovered by the research was “confidentiality and trust” — young people were worried about breaches of confidentiality, judgment, or even just having a lack of familiarity. Using technology to address mental health means that people can share intimate details about themselves without fear that their trust will be broken, or that they’ll face judgement or criticism.
2. Technology Is Preventative
A study led by the World Health Organization estimated that the global cost of mental health treatment and health outcomes in 36 low-, middle- and high-income countries for the 15 years from 2016-2030 is around a trillion US dollars every year. And depression in particular is on the rise, increasing by a whopping 18% between 2005 and 2015.