Technology has proved to be an invaluable asset in the field of mental health. We have the internet which allows easy access to information on symptoms and disorders such as depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder. We have EEG machines which allow us to physically change brain waves reducing symptomology and we have cell phone apps that allow us to track our moods and symptoms to better understand their etiology. With all these wonderful uses for technology, it’s hard to imagine that they could have a negative side too.

Today everyone is constantly plugged in. We have laptops, smart-phones, ipads, ipods, work computers, television, TiVo for on demand watching, and redbox on every corner. This constant need to be preoccupied with electronic toys is resulting in the break down of our communities, and it is likely a strong variable in the ADHD epidemic that seems to be overtaking our society. It seems that excessive use of technology can be harmful to our extended social support systems, and our cognitive development.

Even though many people will argue that technology helps them keep in touch with loved ones easier, there still seems to be a break down in communities. Yes, you can email your family often and text your daughter to see if she is home from school all while you are sitting in a meeting at work. But this is your immediate social support system. Your community is comprised of individuals that live in your town and is an important extension. Your relations within your community are extended social support. However, it seems like there has been a gradual breakdown of interest in developing relationships with neighbors, or those you see on the streets everyday. How many people take the time to get to know their neighbors when they move into a new place? I admit to being guilty of this at times, and often wonder what it was like for my grandparents who lived in their house for close to 40 years, raising their children with those on the street and knowing that no matter what they could rely on those living close by if something were to happen. If their child broke his arm falling from a tree a neighbor would help, or if an adolescent was falling in with the wrong crowd a neighbor would tell his parents.

Last month in San Francisco, a killer walked onto a crowded train. The passengers were so involved in their smart-phones and ipods that no one saw him take out his gun and wave it around. In fact he did this about 4 or 5 times, randomly aiming at individuals as he randomly chose his target. No one noticed until he fired a round into the back of a university student, killing him. They were so consumed with technology and completely detached from their environment they didn’t notice. The police had to review the train security footage for an accurate account of what happened.
Does this sound like a horrific but isolated incident? Anyone remember watching the viral video of a woman in the mall who was so engrossed in her texting that she walked right into the fountain and fell in? Has your state started a campaign to stop texting and driving because of the high rate of accidents which resulted from people being distracted? It seems like the constant use of technology has some serious down sides.

Besides effecting our relationships and social support systems, the constant use of technology has led to changes in our cognitive development. Everyone can think of a time they were staring at the microwave wondering when the food was going to be done already! It seems we have grown accustom to constantly being entertained, preoccupied, or on the go while multitasking. I have often thought that this constant need to be stimulated may play a role in the soaring number of individuals being seen for problems with attention.

Years ago, kids played with simple toys which were often homemade. Lincoln logs were considered great presents, and if the weather was nice you were outside reinventing some fantasy role you and your brothers have played hundreds of times. Kids needed to entertain themselves and they used their imaginations, they pondered, and they were accustomed to being bored. These types of activities helped them develop their attention. They could sit for hours playing quietly, they could focus on the task at hand, and they spent time entertaining themselves by using their minds and imaginations.

Today, children are placed in front of the television at an early age and grow up with the luxury of constant entertainment. The thought of being bored is unthinkable, and often tantrums ensue to protest mom’s request that they put their iphone away for dinner. Children who are accustom to constant entertainment never had a need to develop their attention, and as a result don’t. This can lead to children and adults seeking medications that they otherwise would never have needed.

The good news is that technology has also been developed to help individuals develop their attention through neurofeedback therapy. This type of therapy is a holistic approach to treating ADHD (and many other disorders) by using a feedback loop to change brainwaves and help the individual focus better, ultimately improving their attention. The technology for this type of therapy has been around for years, but is just recently becoming more of a mainstream therapeutic approach.

Overall, I want to say I am not anti-technology. Technology has some wonderful uses and can be beneficial in countless ways. However, when I read the news article about how technology distracted those individuals on the train, oblivious of their surrounding and safety, I was shocked. Even if no one had been willing to be a hero and save the life of the innocent university student, I was surprised at how unaware they were for their own safety. No one seemed to notice the gun wielding killer on the train. I began to think about the long term effects this problem can have on the mental health of individuals, and how technology has played a role in the increased number of ADHD patients that are seen.

Technology is a great tool to make life easier and improve our quality of living , but everything needs to be in moderation. Find a balance in your life, take time to unplug every once in a while, and remember to step out of the virtual world and enjoy the real one that surrounds you everyday.

-Dr. Brennan

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Brennan attended Rutgers University, and graduated with a Bachelor's of Arts in Psychology. She also completed a Master of Arts in Psychology at Pace University. Upon completion, she began a doctorate program at Argosy University completing a Master's of Arts and Doctorate of Psychology in Clinical Psychology. She is currently completing her residency in Clinical Neuropsychology and works at as a life coach specializing in holistic coaching, ADHD, and Recovery Coaching.Trained in the Practitioner-Scholar model, Dr. Brennan works with clients using empirically supported techniques such as CBT, ACT, and BFST.