Mindfulness makes millions, let’s find out why…
Whether it’s a story about potential nuclear war, politically divisive world leaders, the rising tide of hardcore polarisation in both the political and social spheres we are living an era of unprecedented levels of anxiety in our lives. The pace of modern life is staggering. We now live in a 24-hour news cycle, never has so much potentially scary or concerning information been poured into our lives at such an alarming rate. Perhaps, then its fitting that a persistent source of our stress and anxiety, modern technology, is being utilised as a tool to fight back against the dark side of our online lives. So, how have we arrived at a point where technological solutions to mental health problems have become a multi-billion dollar industry?
Self-care apps are more popular than any other style of app. In 2015, the meditation and mindfulness industry took in nearly $1 billion, the top 10 wellness apps (e.g. mindfulness and meditation) made about 170 percent more revenue worldwide in 2018 than the top 10 wellness apps did in 2017 across both the App Store and Google Play. Calm, one of the most popular meditation apps, voted app of the year in 2017 for ios, is now estimated to be worth a cool 250 million dollars.
There are currently more than 10,000 depression and anxiety-related self-help apps available to download, the American Psychiatric Association estimates. But less than 1 percent have been professionally evaluated. So how do we go about making sure that the app we choose to help ourselves can be trusted to do what it says? There are some pragmatic ways that we can at least try to limit our exposure to a counterproductive environment. and the app we are using is reliable. Try to limit your search for apps with input from a mental health practitioner. Seek out apps which have received approval by a regulatory body, for example, the US Food and Drug Administration and whether the app has undergone any trials to demonstrate its clinical effectiveness.
The market for mental health apps seems to dominated by those pesky millennials…
Millenials are unlike any other generation in history, marrying later, difficult to employ, less likely to have children and are more likely to care about their mental health. Judy Piatkus points out “Millennials haven’t got the same values as older people. They are looking at their lives, saying: ‘This isn’t working, how can I manage my life? … How can I be the best person I can be?’” There are many barriers for people when getting access to the therapy they need, most commonly its the rising price of visiting a therapist in their office, which pushes it out of the reach of a lot of people who would like to use the service. Perhaps the biggest barrier to therapy services for most people is the stigma surrounding mental health issues in society at large.
Its estimated that the average person checks their phone 150 times a day. Most of this is unconscious muscle memory. The average teen describes their relationship with their phone using the same language usually associated with addiction, often times describing separation anxiety from their phone and admit to sleeping with their phone under their pillow. This guarantees that the first and last thing they interact with every day is their phone. A way of reducing the power of the distraction available is being careful about which apps you allow push notifications, as it is incredibly distracting to go through life when every few minutes you are getting a digital tap on the shoulder.
So the double-edged sword of depending on an app for mental health improvements seems almost counter-intuitive given the rising evidence that smartphones are negatively impacting those with already high levels of anxiety. “There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness. Eighth-graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56 percent more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who devote less time to social media.” The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression. Eighth-graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent, while those who play sports, go to religious services, or even do homework more than the average teen cut their risk significantly.
Unplugging from technology is often seen as a way for people to recover from the stress of their digital lives.
The biggest barrier to improving mental health is feeling like you have nobody to listen to you and admit how you are feeling. In general the fact that people treat mental illness as something to cure with either a prescription or an app is perhaps the idea that mental health issues are curable rather than being analogous to physical health, something that requires exercise in order to maintain healthy function, and learning to rest and give care to it when it is under stress or has been hurt. There is no silver bullet for mental health issues and more importantly, nobody is immune from having problems. A dialogue needs to open up in a society where people can feel comfortable talking about NOT feeling ok.The lack of genuine oversight of the content on apps as to whether the advice is accurate or indeed useful. The idea that apps let users determine our own “diagnosis” without oversight from a psychologically sound source can make symptoms worse. Phones already enable avoidance of real-life problems and the apps we use are designed to hook us in a loop of likes shares and comments. Rather than being a user shaped by the tool, we should aim to master our usage of the tool so as to avoid the very clear pitfalls of having an unlimited distraction in our pockets and hands.