My millennial daughters were part of the first generation ever to grow up with computers, cell phones, and the Internet. I appreciate the incredible technological advances but as a parent, I experienced challenges that seem to go hand-in-hand with electronics.
It was a constant battle to monitor screen time. I wanted to make sure that texting, posting, and searching the web didn’t devour too many hours of the day. I had concerns about online safety, cyber bullying, and the effects social media would have on my girls. I knew that constantly comparing themselves to others on Instagram and Facebook could lead to low self-esteem, loneliness, and depression.
Much attention has been given to the negative aspects of technology and mental health.
But what about the positive side?
As the vast tech world continues to expand, there are numerous ways it can benefit mental health. Recently I learned about one of those ways.
There’s a new type of online chat group, called a Slack community. Slack stands for “Searchable Log for All Conversation and Knowledge.” Entrepreneurs Zach Schleien and David Markovich are co-founders of a free Slack group for people with mental health issues. It’s called 18percent. The name comes from the 18 percent of Americans living with mental illness.
Zach was inspired to start 18percent after a close friend took his own life after battling schizoaffective disorder/bipolar type 1. Zach said he never knew how much his friend Louis was suffering, as Louis never spoke about his struggles.
Zach wanted to create a space on the Internet where people could talk openly about their mental health problems anonymously and help each other, in the form of a peer-to-peer global support group. He said some users don’t want to discuss their issues with family and friends but they feel comfortable in an anonymous chat group.
Thousands of online tools are available to support those living with mental illness. Technology can offer convenience, 24-hour service, and anonymity. For example:
- People in the United States can text the Crisis Text Line at 741741 anytime and talk with a Crisis Counselor.
- Google has teamed up with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) to offer a mental health screening questionnaire for U.S. residents who search for “depression” on their cell phone.
- Apps are targeted to people with conditions like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, and schizophrenia. The apps are designed to help manage symptoms and track moods.
- Mindfulness and meditation apps (like Headspace, Calm, and The Mindfulness App) can help lower stress.
- Blogging and writing can be therapeutic. It’s freeing to write down thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and release them out into cyberspace. Can be anonymous. Creativity can flow; try poetry, list goals and dreams, write a letter to your mental illness. The blogging community can be a wonderful source of encouragement and support.
- People can talk anonymously in online chat groups, like 18percent, 7 Cups, and NAMI Discussion Groups.
- Online therapy, such as BetterHelp and 7 Cups, offer professional counseling services. Some mental health professionals give one-on-one therapy through video and text.
- Computerized Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CCBT) is one of the new frontiers in psychotherapy, offering online CBT to treat depression, anxiety, and other behavioral health problems. Advantages are that it can be delivered on-demand and is less expensive than visiting a therapist.
- Scientists are testing Virtual Reality as a tool for exposure therapy.
- Online fundraising can benefit mental health organizations. Following the death of his friend, Zach Schleien not only started the Slack community, 18percent, but he raised $10,000 for NAMI through an online crowdfunding platform called CaringCrowd. Zach’s goal is to raise $30,000 for NAMI in May, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month.
Mental health technology can bring amazing opportunities. But this is a new area and experts warn consumers to be careful about trusting an app or program. The National Institute of Mental Health says, “there are no national standards for evaluating the effectiveness of mental health apps that are available.” The NIMH suggests people ask a trusted health care provider for recommendations.
Technology has made enormous strides I didn’t dream were possible when my daughters were little. At least now that Mackenzie and Talee are in their twenties and independent, I don’t have to worry about constantly monitoring screen time.