Links Between Technology and Mental Health


Technology can be a good or a bad thing, depending on how we use it.

Earlier this year, we ran a post about a young man who was experiencing insomnia, heightened anxiety, stomach pains and, at times, panic attacks.  He spent a few days in the hospital, however, the doctors could not figure out what was wrong.  In the following weeks after his discharge, he stopped playing video games and all of the symptoms went away.  This is only an anecdotal experience, and it’s important to realize that there isn’t much research out there regarding mental health and its connection to the use of technology.  We’ve seen both good and bad things that seem to have some connection with a how an individual uses and interacts with technology, most notably the frequency and time spent on computers, video games, phones, etc.

Do a quick Internet search for “video game addiction” and you’ll probably find a WebMD article which speaks of this phenomenon as an “impulse control disorder,” similar to gambling.  Some studies have found links between children who are addicted to video games as a risk factor for experiencing mental health issues.  The sensory overload that has become a routine part of our American culture is rapidly overtaking our ability to cope with all these stimuli.  How do we handle the freedom of carrying around supercomputers in our pockets?  How often do we impulsively check our emails just because we can?

We live in a world that’s more interconnected than ever and we’re becoming more connected to each other’s lives through technology– particularly through social media.  Although an increased sense of connection is possible through using technology, it’s a tale of two cities all over again: “It’s the best of times and it’s the worst of times.”  Despite the connection fostered through technology, it also has a great ability to isolate people from each other.  It’s a “two steps forward, one step back” kind of arrangement.

Social Comparison and Social Media

According to a recent article on Medical News Today, people who spend a significant amount of time on Facebook tend to spend more time comparing themselves to others, resulting in lowered self-esteem.  “Social comparison,” first studied about 50 years ago, is evolving alongside of technology, and becoming more difficult to navigate due to a loss of control over the interactions between oneself and the perceived image of someone else’s life via social media.  Fifty years ago, there was more of a sense of control in social interactions and conversations as they require a shared space in which to commune.

Two recent studies published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology investigated how social comparison via Facebook might affect psychological health and well being.  Although it might not seem to be a huge surprise, both studies found links between depression and people who use Facebook to compare themselves to their peers.

Mental Health Benefits of Social Media and Video Games

However, video games and social media can be good for us.  Researchers have found a link between social media and a sense of belonging through the connections fostered online that might not be able to happen otherwise.  It’s much easier to find old friends and keep in touch with family members than ever before.  There’s also studies about video games and links to boosting children’s ability to learn, creativity, enhance social skills, and overall health.  Benefits can also include increased memory functions, emotional resilience, relaxation, and  decreased anxiety.

What is to be done?  Should we throw out the baby with the bathwater?  Should we totally insulate ourselves from technology as the world is rapidly changing around us?  We advocate for a balanced perspective when it comes to video games and technology.  That may involve conversations about impulse control and being able to follow through with appropriate times to put down the phone or turn off the console.  If you have youngsters, it may also include teaching them about setting boundaries and finding a variety of ways to relax and recreate apart from technology.

Here at PTI, we always want to advocate for total health and we know that each person is different.  The hallmark of our business is that we serve people and put them first.  Our staff is 100% committed to treating people right, no matter what.  Are we perfect?  Not by a long shot, but we’re always trying to improve.  We have two great locations in the Northshore community and in Baton Rouge with experienced counselors and clinicians ready to help with any and every part of the mental health treatment process.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out and give us a call today.