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Tapping Into Therapy

An IV hanging from his arm, then-freshman *Peter Ryans sat in his hospital bed.

After reaching a low of 102 pounds, he had ended up in intensive care for the second time in two years from his struggles with anorexia, depression and anxiety.

Now a sophomore, Ryans stayed until deemed healthy — gaining back weight through eating regularly in healthy portions, taking daily blood tests to make sure his organs were improving and visiting a therapist.

But Ryans isn’t alone. 25 percent of teens live with a mental health condition, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. They found that the number of people struggling with mental health has increased by about a third in recent years, especially in teens. Predictions show a continuous rising trend, with an expectation that 50 percent of people will experience a mental illness at a point in their life.

New self-help apps, tests and technology like Kareo — a software that searches through medical records for patients who could be at risk for developing mental health conditions — have begun developing in the past decade to address the looming and threatening issue of mental health. They are not perfected or all used regularly yet, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, but NIMH said with time they are in line to become one of the main channels for easily accessible help.

Psychologists see social media and technology as a heavy influencer on mental health, and 43 percent of East students agree, based on a poll of 193 students. Since 1995 alone, technology users have increased by over 55 percent, according to Internet World Stats. Social media use has increased by over 15 percent in the past two years according to Smart Insights — and both are predicted to continue to rise.

The Pew Research Center found that over 45 percent of teens are using social media on a near constant basis, and Telegraph News found that people spend over 28 hours per week on their phones. With the continual increasing technology progressions from iPhones to laptops to Apple Watches, they found that it’s expected to keep rising.

Expectations of success are high and getting higher with college and careers becoming more competitive, according to senior Blaine Murphy as well as team leader at Johnson County Mental Health Clinic Renee Van Meter and therapist Liz Christian. They believe that this competition forces people to put more stress on themselves to keep up with expectations which they find increasingly more important than mental health.

Van Meter believes there’s more pressure on kids now than in past generations, which makes it harder to realize they need help.

“There is so much pressure being put on our youth today to be the best, to be perfect, to be No. 1,” Van Meter said. “While there is nothing wrong with working hard to achieve your best, it’s also just as OK to fail and pick yourself up and try again. Who wants to ask for help when they feel worthless and hopeless?”

Van Meter expects the pressures to continue growing and hurting the youth — making them feel as though their best isn’t enough — until people come up with a solution or way to decrease these expectations.

Advancements in methods used to treat mental illnesses bring a different side to technology’s impact. According to Christian, researchers are coming up with ways other than medication or therapy to treat depression and anxiety, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation and behavioral trackers, to see real results in these mental health conditions.

Christian believes there will be better treatments for different and more specific chemical imbalances caused by having either too many or too few neurotransmitters, which assist communication between nerve cells. Transcranial magnetic stimulation delivers short, repetitive bursts of energy against one’s forehead to stimulate the brain’s nerve cells and activating the cells in order to help those dealing with depression.

Dr. Thomas Insel, a neuroscientist, psychologist and past director of the NIMH, is developing behavioral trackers that record signs of impending mental health conditions like depression or anxiety. The tracker is used through an app that monitors the way a person types, taps and scrolls on their phone.

As people begin showing characteristics of depression, the app tracks it. Whether someone is responding less to texts, calls, emails or social media direct messages, taking longer to pick up their phone or even scrolling more slowly through apps and messages, the data is logged to find the likelihood of the subject sliding into a state of mental illness. While the signs may seem minor, capturing the small ones earlier, the app’s description said, aid in catching the illness early so help can be sought out by people dealing with mental health issues or their family before the effects get worse.

Some students, like senior Blaine Murphy’s friends, use technology to reach out to support groups and find access to help online and through social media like Instagram.

“I have a lot of friends whose Internet groups are really their only means of getting good support, which is the key to even beginning to get help with mental health,” Murphy said. “Without social media they would feel alone and in a worse condition.”

He found that the increasing use of these apps and websites could result  in help for people who didn’t want to see a therapist as it was easier to speak honestly with strangers than with friends or in person. Murphy also thinks finding the help online eliminates some fear of judgement, with their accessibility contributing to their rise in popularity.

Websites like BetterHelp and apps like What’s Up and MoodKit are becoming more popular as they provide therapy and help for mental health rather than a planned hour of therapy costing an average of $75-100. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, 9 percent of those dealing with mental health now prefer mental health apps to any other form of treatment.

The apps help users keep record of their mood and daily thoughts, ask questions in complete confidence, set and follow steps to improve wellbeing, keep contacts of local and national mental health support and contact emergency services if needed.

But Christian sees social media and technology as something that can distort people’s vision of themselves and contribute to worsening mental health.

“People do an almost constant comparison of their lives to the lives of others and people post almost exclusively fabulous things, not the rest of the realities they have to deal with,” Christian said.

Technology is battling itself as mental health conditions will be increasingly more common, but the technology advancements and society’s involvement can help change that according to Murphy.

“Unless there are major changes to how we treat it, and see it and what we decide to do about it, there’s not going to be any change,” Murphy said. “It’s going to keep rising, and I really don’t think there’s any way to make it stop rising unless we’re willing to do something about it.”

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Author Spotlight

Rose Kanaley

Rose Kanaley
Rose Kanaley is a sophomore going into her first year on staff as a page designer. She is involved in student council, SHARE, tennis and lacrosse. In her free time she enjoys hanging out with friends, playing with her dog Chester, and going on adventures in Target. »

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