Technology and mental health

Reading Time: 2 minutes Ammon Cheney, UVU Mental Health Services Outreach Coordinator, weighs in on how technology influences us and how we can control its effects on our lives.

A computer, tablet, and phone display images of static.Reading Time: 2 minutes

Technology is a big part of our lives; it impacts how important relationships are made and how entire systems operate. It plays a part in our entertainment, cooking, cleaning, and other tasks. However, technology also comes with the delicate responsibility of balancing its use in our lives. 

Ammon Cheney, a therapist for Mental Health Services at Utah Valley University, spoke to The Review about how students could deal with the growing impact of technology on their lives. 

“Adolescent brains are still developing, and hormones that are prevalent during mid-to late-adolescence are particularly tied to emotion,” Cheney explains. “Therefore, youth are strongly reinforced by engaging in emotionally-rewarding activities.” 

Cheney further explained that since “many youth can access anything that is of interest, instantly, through their devices … [it] makes attachment to devices uniquely powerful.” 

“I believe that information in the form of flashy videos has outpaced our brain’s evolutionary ability to tune out or prioritize such information,” Cheney stated about the rise of technology. “Our early ancestors would have benefited a great deal from redirecting attention to something novel in their environment, whether it be something to eat or something from which to escape.”

Cheney continued, “These days, many of us swipe a screen hoping that the next novel thing to appear will provide a boost of dopamine [(our feel-good neurotransmitter)]. Apps like TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook reinforce on an intermittent schedule, or at irregular intervals, which behaviorists have determined is the most effective reward schedule for eliciting a subject’s effort.”

Many resources have endeavored to further explain the phenomenon Cheney referenced.  Netflix’sThe Social Dilemma” is one such title. However, Cheney doesn’t believe the future to be doomed.

“Technology allows us to better understand how we function, and there are definitely apps that have profound benefits to mental health…Personally, I’m hopeful that technology provides more benefits than challenges,” Cheney stated.

Cheney’s solution to the problems that technology presents seem to be rooted in finding balance and discipline. Cheney explained that helpful tools like timers and taking breaks could allow many students the ability to discipline themselves in regard to their phones.

Cheney concluded the interview by affirming that it’s important to exercise our minds to be disciplined. He states, “Just like working out in the gym to build physical muscle tissue, it takes exercising our minds to reinforce behaviors that support our personal values. If your use of any technology is not in keeping with your values, experiment with boundary setting until your values are congruent with your use of technology.”
To learn more about Mental Health Services and what they provide, visit their website or their office Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.