The internet is such a big part of our daily lives. For many people, it’s hard to imagine what we would do without instant access to Facebook, Google and all of the other fantastic tools that are available. It’s no surprise that, since it’s become such a big part of our lives, it also plays a part in our mental health.
What effect does the internet have on mental health? Is it a tool that can be used to help? Or something that’s going to cause more harm than good?
We’re going to go in reverse order from the title, starting with The Worry and working our way down to The Good.
Pairing the internet with mental health often gets a bad reputation: there are horror stories of internet addiction leading to bad results. The death of the individuals or to the death of others around the addicted person are unfortunately too common.
In addition to the harm that people end up inflicting on themselves, there are a growing number of cases where people are taken against their will and forced into “internet addiction rehabilitation.” They treat these individuals as though they’re drug addicts. And sometimes treated as a danger to themselves and others. In one case, a tragic story out of China, a teenage boy was allegedly beaten to death at one of these rehab camps. Yes, you read that right: a 15-year-old boy died over a perceived addiction to the internet.
While cases like these are extreme, it doesn’t stop these camps and treatment programs from being advertised on television in places like China and, ironically, on the internet as well.
A study done in 2007 found that, of 7,000 video gamers polled, nearly 12% appeared to show signs of addiction, and the percentage has likely only risen in the nine years since the study was released.
While it has not been officially added to the DSMV as a possible diagnosis, it was added to Section III, meaning that more research is required before it’s considered an official mental disorder.
The lack of an official diagnosis does not change the fact that we are growing more and more dependent on smartphones, internet-enabled devices and video games to deal with the things that we face in the real world.
Now that we’ve gotten all the bad news out of the way, it’s time for a change of pace. The internet is a fantastic tool for people who suffer from mental illnesses, for more reasons than we can count. Here are a few of the best examples:
Internet-based treatment plans
Some mental illnesses, like anxiety and agoraphobia, make it difficult or impossible for people to get out of their house to get the proper treatment. As such, internet-based treatment plans and other options use video calls via programs like Skype and FaceTime to bring the treatments to where they’re needed most.
Benefits of Social Media
While it seems like our social media feeds are always filled with unpleasantness, overall, the use of social media is actually beneficial to individuals with mental health. It provides a tool to alleviate some of the loneliness and disassociation that often comes with mental illness. It also allows people to foster new friendships, strengthen existing relationships and, if worse comes to worst, it’s a way for people to call for help.
The Internet Makes Us Happier
A study from 2010 found that people with internet access are generally more satisfied with their lives. The internet doesn’t usually take into account the things that separate us when we’re out in the real world, like income, skin color, religion, etc. Instead, it provides a place for people to come together, and that’s incredibly empowering.
This phone-based app that’s taken the world by storm over the past weeks is actually becoming a great tool to help improve mental health. While all the evidence at this point is purely anecdotal, there are plenty of first-hand experiences filling the web. The benefits of exercise for mental health are well-known. It’s not surprising that a game that encourages people to get up and go for a walk is starting to help improve their mental health, too.
Body image and its effects on mental health are quickly becoming an enormous problem — especially for younger adults. Look out the window or flip through a magazine and you’ll see why: models promoting unrealistic and often unattainable standards of beauty, augmented by merciless photo editing software. At the same time, though, the internet can be a great tool to help promote positive body image.
When it comes down to it, the internet is no better or worse than anything else in our lives. It can be dangerous if not used correctly. But on the other side of that same coin, it’s also a fantastic tool that can be used to help improve mental health in general. It can help improve the quality of life for people who suffer from mental illnesses every single day.
The ability to connect with other human beings through a cell phone or computer can often mean the difference between staying in bed all day or getting up to enjoy everything the world has to offer.