Author: Justin Mckibben
Let’s talk about Pokémon Go, why not? Considering literally everyone else in the world is, why shouldn’t we get in on the action? Ever since this new phenomenon has hit the streets in the form of an interactive smartphone app that is quickly consuming the lives of customers all over America there have been some pretty intense stories. It seems the game is probably one of the most instantaneously addictive things on the market right now, so of course it brings to mind previous conversations on:
I can personally say I was pretty amused when my roommate stumbled out of his room at 2 AM in his underwear chasing invisible creatures through the apartment via his phone like a mad man…
Apparently, there is some rare breed of something hiding in my closet… but I digress…
People have become obsessed overnight with this game. It seems any time you walk into a room with anyone around the age of… being alive… you are going to be an obstacle in their mission of hunting some pixelated Pokémon. Some people are worried about how obsessed people have become. Others insist it has done wonders for their mental health. So I wanted to take a look at some of these interesting theories.
What is it?
Essentially Pokémon Go is a game based on a Nintendo-owned franchise that was especially popular in the late 1990’s. This new smartphone game uses a phone’s GPS and clock to detect where and when people are in the game. Then it makes Pokémon “appear” around you.
No, not literally… but you can see them through your phone camera on the screen… so basically real life, right?
The idea is to go and catch them. Different and more types of Pokémon will appear depending on where you are and what time it is.
First let us say that many of these claims can’t be fully legitimized at this time. However, Twitter users seem confident in what they see happening with others and experiencing themselves regarding mental health and Pokémon Go. One Twitter user put it as:
“Pokémon Go is literally making people with depression and anxiety and agoraphobia leave the house and explore and socialize.”
Which when you examine the nature of the game does actually make some sense. Pokémon Go requires users to go into the outside world and explore to find Pokémon and items.
Many players have said that the game gives them an incentive to get out of the house and be active. It inspires some to exercise and spend time outdoors, while having fun and interacting with others. Now if you look at it this way, how could it not do some good for mental health?
I honestly had to wonder this myself when the game was first announced. As I watched co-workers and friends wonder aimlessly through parking lots and gather together to share their latest catches, I figured this was giving us a new way to get outside more and get active with one another. Maybe it’s not so bad, right?
Then there is the argument of if the trade-off is worth it for having teens and young adults yet again dragged too deep into their phones. This concern also makes sense to me. If you have this new obsession with constantly striving to “catch em all” then how will your personal relationships and responsibilities suffer? I don’t know anyone personally, but you can be sure a few people have already lost their jobs or blown off their dates to chase Pikachu around a grocery store.
Pokémon Related Injury
This is one side-effect I definitely saw coming, but I was not aware of the magnitude that it might manifest in. Already Pokémon– related injuries are being reported all over the country. So many people have admitted in social media forums that they completely forgot where they were, dropping all focus on their surroundings.
One Reddit user’s story has made the rounds online about ending up in the ER on night after falling into a ditch and fracturing bones in their foot 30 minutes into playing the game. There are even accounts of drivers getting into traffic accidents because they were playing the game out the window while driving.
To be fair, the makers of the game did make a warning to be aware of surroundings.
Risky Rocket Business
This should be taken as a serious warning if nothing else. The game has been notably misused already. Police in O’Fallon, Missouri have reported four people suspected of armed robberies involving Pokémon Go. The suspects reportedly placed beacons, which are a feature available in the game to interact with the surroundings, to lure people to their locations where they robbed them. 11 teenagers have been mugged this way so far, according to this initial report.
So #TeamRocket is becoming an actual thing… and they are freaking people out. Is this gaming addiction really that serious? Do people really need to risk their lives, or the lives of others, for these imaginary monsters?
Most Addictive App Ever?
Some are already calling Pokémon Go the most addictive gaming app ever. It has experienced a number of technical issues since its launch, including server crashes and other issues. Still, for a FREE gaming app with all this hype, it is doing pretty well for itself. Looking back there was Pokémon Blue and other titles for the franchise. People have been working their way up to this all along.
The question remains- what could this do for people’s mental health? If it really is that addictive, what consequences will it reap on those who have a tendency of taking things too far? Will we see a spike in gaming addiction and obsessive behaviors? Or will it actually have a mixed impact as it lures people out of their homes and into their communities. Some surprising testimonies have told how random strangers in a community come together, united over the teams they choose and to make strategies for how to play.
So next time you see someone blindly following their phone into on-coming traffic… maybe they are just trying to track down a Evee or a Squirtle? Maybe you should save them from themselves and keep them on the sidewalk… or some of you will probably hope to have the Pokémon to yourself… FOR SHAME!
Addiction can involve behaviors not related to taking drugs or drinking excessively. You can be addicted to the internet, gaming, gambling, sex, eating, or any other behavior that is causing problems in your life, such as destroying relationships, your health, or interfering with your job. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call us at 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
In case you were still skeptical, social media has become a significant element of our society… definitely. We have evolved into a culture that circulates information and cultivates emotional and ethical responses based on the shares, likes and comments associated with our tweets, posts and pics. Social media has been credited with being both helpful and detrimental to depression depending on the context, and now there is another aspect of mental health that some suspect is being threatened by our threads.
A new study is suggesting that observing violent news events via social media can actually cause people to experience symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
How much of an impact can our videos have, and could this be the beginning of a whole new brand of stress and trauma diagnosis?
Sharing Our Stress
Dr. Pam Ramsden from the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Bradford presented this concept back on Thursday May 7th 2015 at the Annual Conference of the British Psychology Society being held in Liverpool. Here Dr. Ramsden explained:
“The negative effects of exposure to other people’s suffering have long been recognized in roles such as professional healthcare workers. Various studies have documented the negative psychological reactions following indirect exposure to traumatized people called vicarious traumatization.”
This refers to incidences where individuals in several fields including healthcare professionals experienced trauma through others and ultimately were affected by that shared experience. Someone reliving their trauma and expressing it to another person can take a toll on that person. Hearing the grotesque and gruesome details can create a kind of second-hand shock and stress. Ramsden went on to say,
“Social media has enabled violent stories and graphic images to be watched by the public in unedited horrific detail. Watching these events and feeling the anguish of those directly experiencing them may impact on our daily lives. In this study we wanted to see if people would experience longer lasting effects such as stress and anxiety, and in some cases post-traumatic stress disorders from viewing these images.”
So when we see something brutal or violent happen online through videos, images and dialog we can still feel that impact, even though some have suggested we become disconnected from the images and words on the screen and dehumanize the victims, it appears this is not always the case.
Assessing the Trauma
189 participants around the age of 37 years old with an almost even equal number of men and women completed a few tests for trauma including:
- Clinical assessments for PTSD
- A personality questionnaire
- A vicarious trauma assessment
- A questionnaire concerning different violent news events on social media or the internet
The violent events used for this test included the 9/11 Twin Tower attacks, school shootings and suicide bombings. The details of the examination indicated:
- 22% of participants were significantly affected by the media events
- 1/4 of those who viewed the intense internet images scored high on clinical measures of PTSD
The fact that these individuals scored high on clinical measures of PTSD was a very concerning development considering that they experienced this level of stress despite:
- They did not have previous trauma
- They were not present at the traumatic events
- They had only watched them via social media
There was also an increased risk for those with outgoing, extroverted personalities. So those social butterflies that are more likely to share and comment were also those that could be more sensitive to the effects of being exposed to violent and graphic material on social media.
So by exposing ourselves to such extreme and foul content we are increasing the risks of PTSD, and possibly even creating a whole new brand of it. Extensive research into the trend of internet addiction and some kind of dependence on social media has already begun, as debates continue on the influence social media makes on depression.
So is it safe to assume that with all the sway social media has over us that we should be careful of all the distasteful and uncensored stories and depictions we take in?
Are we as a society overloading ourselves online with images and audio that intoxicate our anxiety and compound with our already rattled reasoning to create new levels of trauma?
What new methods of diagnosis and treatment could come from PTSD inspired by social media?
For now we should remember that the impressions these sites have are real for some people. Some have been oppressed by these unstable emotional ties to their online lives, while others have been liberated by the sense of connection. Whatever way you believe, your social media can change your mind if you let it.
An issue like PTSD is nothing to take likely, and mental health has a serious impact on the quality of life and possibility of recovery for anyone struggling with substance abuse issues. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
It seems with society moving toward staying in shape, fitness trackers are going mainstream, feeding the growing general concern with body image. It comes as no surprise that America’s obsession with smartphones only added to the popularity of fitness technology, but some recent developments have caused people to notice how harmful these apps can be to a select few. Do these kinds of apps actually promote eating disorders?
The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) says that up to 30 million people in the United States have an eating disorder at some point in their life, but considering only 1 in 10 receives proper treatment, is it fair to say they far too many have the potential to be negatively influenced in a world run on iPhones and Androids?
The Apple iOS 8 update introduced a new Health app designed to combine data from fitness apps like:
And with new hardware like the Apple Watch to go with this new software, it is sure to get even more popular.
While some critics are more focused on the apps inability to impress with its functionality, Sarah Wanenchak went a step further by turning the focus to a more serious note in her writing in Cyborgology:
“The Health app is literally dangerous, specifically to people dealing with/in recovery from eating disorders and related obsessive-compulsive behaviors.”
She wrote that the app was poorly designed, an enabler of disordered eating behavior, and a temptation to fall back into self-destructive habits. The fact that the Health app was pre-loaded onto devices with the update and couldn’t be deleted only made the situation more vexing, especially for those who do struggle with some form of disordered eating. Michele Kabas is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in eating disorders who says she is troubled that users don’t have a choice about installing the Health app, calling it irresponsible.
Dr. Rene Zweig, therapist at Union Square Cognitive Therapy has said:
“Most people who have healthy relationships with food and their bodies use these fitness trackers and know what the limit is. Someone who has a more obsessive mindset or eating disordered mindset can easily get on that spiral of competing with themselves or other people.”
Almost all of Dr. Zweig’s patients use these kinds of fitness apps. Some in healthy ways, but many use the apps in relentlessly obsessive ways to negatively compare themselves to others and reinforce unhealthy habits.
The Appetite for Apps
The same numbers some people are able to use constructively can also be manipulated to provide inspiration for eating disorders. Or even worse those numbers can exacerbate them. These kinds of apps also allow people to trade and compare numbers with others, which can stimulate an eating disorder out of some sense of competitiveness, or drive unhealthy behaviors when someone negatively compares themselves to another person.
I have written about ‘thinspiration’ and pro-anorexia websites, blogs and chat forums. One of these discusses unhealthy dieting plans including consuming just 750 calories per day and walking a minimum of 14,000 steps, tracking it all with a Fitbit. On MyFitnessPal people with eating disorders even congratulate one another about under-eating or over-exercising to the point that other people using the service have complained.
But wait, there’s more! Those apps all use raw data, but still others are even more malicious and dangerous for those with eating disorders! Some are built around negative motivational tactics that shame the individual into trying to meet unhealthy goals. Some such as:
- Carrot Fit
- Shock therapy wearable Pavlok
Dr. Zweig says that apps that utilize cruel and negative reinforcement may actually appeal to people who already have disordered eating.
Redirecting the Issue
There is also some effort put forward by some apps to combat the severity or possibility of eating disorders. Some still don’t think that is enough, but it is a start.
MyFitnessPal is one app that offers a page titled “eating disorders resources” and has posted a blog from a licensed clinical social worker about overcoming binge eating. It will even warn users if they appear to not be consuming enough calories.
In similar fashion, social networks Pinterest and Tumblr have programmed their apps to direct users who search hashtags like #proana or #thinspiration to the National Eating Disorders Association. Still some say the apps could also use the available data to provide more contextualized feedback.
On the other end of the spectrum apps do exist to help users overcome their eating disorders. One such app is Recovery Record that allows users to enter their nutrition and fitness information. Users can also make posts about the urge to binge or purge to share with others for support.
Too frequently tech companies will ignore or misunderstand mental illnesses while building apps and services designed for a mass audience, but there is hope in future that people sharing their personal experiences with disordered eating and fitness apps will ultimately inspire designers and developers to think about not just a great undifferentiated mass of users, but also the people they unintentionally marginalize who may use these apps in harmful ways. Health and fitness is not a one-size-fits-all problem, so we need more diverse and specific solutions.
Mental health and eating disorders are another way that we can become addicted, whether to substances, people, compulsions or behaviors. But while the world is not the easiest place for those who struggle, it can be a beautiful place with the right recovery. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135
(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)
Author: Justin Mckibben
Thinking about it makes me wonder if we will one day truly be trapped in the matrix. Will we lose real reality in being brainwashed by gigabytes and used up like batteries for the ever advancing and expanding power of technology? I mean, I’d love to learn Kung-Fu in 5 seconds and dodge bullets, but… nah.
It is a reality that we are slowly but surely being reprogrammed by the internet. Not so hard to believe with it being such a constant presence in our lives. Its the legacy of the smartphones, all hail free wifi. I can honestly say in the past I have pondered on how the constant growth and innovation of iPhones and app interface might affect our genetic evolution or natural instincts, and I honestly can’t say it’s all that crazy to consider. Here are just 4 ways the internet is reprogramming us.
- The ‘F’ Affect
Thanks to the Internet, amazing social media and the exciting dialect of texting many believe we are writing our history as a post-literate society. The prominence of blogs and ‘articles’ plastered with more moving images or GIFS than words supports this idea, but one thing is definite; according to research conducted by both Nielsen Norman Group (NNG) and Mediative, this type of online reading content is altering the way we read.
Our eyes have been trained up to this point to read information by quickly skipping horizontally from one word to the next, then back to the start of the next line. Nowadays that’s too old school, and the internet has given us a new (but not much improved) method.
NNG refers to it as the “F-Shaped Pattern”, Mediative calls it the “Golden Triangle”, but either way it means when we are screen reading (i.e., reading on Internet-connected computer screens, smartphones, e-book readers, etc.), our eyes make a triangle or F-shape down the page:
So instead of regularly reading from this complete line to the next line
We have adapted to trying to skim corners of text
Where our minds typically associate with
The most important information,
Something like this
- Proteus Effect
Anyone who has ever played a video game where they have had to design an avatar knows how stressful it can be to try and create the perfect look. Subconsciously we actually relate and identify with our avatars a lot more than we realize, be it an elf warrior, a Sith Lord, or a tattooed car thief. I’ve pretended to be all three, but I’ve only actually ever been one for realzies.
These constructed identities we use for our online interactions are responsible for a phenomenon called the “Proteus Effect”, which is how we gradually begin to act like our online selves in our real-world lives.
There have been various studies to support this concept. When people who use an avatar that is physically attractive and empowered, it boosts their confidence and assertiveness, and the same with people who use less attractive or evil characters who become cruel and self-conscious in real life.
On the up-side, researchers feel virtual reality has the potential to help treat anxiety and mental illness.
- Online Disinhibition Effect
This one is a catch 22. On one side, you have the aspect where individuals can disassociate the online user names and avatars with actual people, making it easier to dehumanize others, and making it easier to be rude and disrespectful without social consequences. Anonymity can be a weapon.
This is known as the “Online Disinhibition Effect” which means that the protection from consequence makes us feel comfortable. It gives us the freedom to be awful individuals, or to be more effective when working with others apparently, so anonymity can also be a virtue.
It’s been found that people participating anonymously in online workshops demonstrate:
- Enhanced problem-solving skills
- A willingness to ask more questions
This is because there is no fear of asking stupid questions, giving stupid answers, or failing to complete a task because no one knows who you are.
Additionally, while some perceive anonymity as an excuse to be cruel to others, it’s also a great way of developing strong online communities who commit to generous and worthy causes, instead of pursuit of popularity. Anonymity creates less inclination to be loyal to individuals at the expense of the group, so everyone hones in on the idea of the group and advancing the group’s goals.
- Social Overdependence (and yet… Distancing Phenomena)
Through communication such as emails, texts, tweets and social media modern technology has made it easier than ever before for people to stay connected with each other. This is a beautiful thing, but it also often results in an overdependence and even obsession with social interaction that is both crippling our independence and isolating us from healthy communication.
FOMO is the “Fear of Missing Out”, which is described as a form of social anxiety that those who tend to feel unloved or without respect experience when they’re unable to interact socially online. FOMO can be so debilitating that not letting someone on Facebook to stay constantly connected can cause depression, and even cause them to question their own existence in extreme cases.
Social media has caused us to rely on it to the point we can literally withdrawal… at least mentally.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
Social media has also made it possible to go pretty much our entire lives without ever having to physically interact with another human being… like ever!
Psychologists have even said we’re creating a “Distancing Phenomena”, which means by never communicating face-to-face, and over-relying on technology to both pacify and educate our children, we are diluting our ability to have real-life conversation.
And yet we wonder why social anxiety is spiking among teens, while simultaneously we overlook that they miss out on learning skills in facial recognition, body language and eye contact that are all essential part of how we as humans express emotions and intentions.
So while I clatter on this keyboard trying to keep your attention long enough to finish this article, adding to the cycle, I can’t help but think how many of you only read the corner of the page. Or how many of you will click ‘like’ or ‘share’ but won’t actually have a conversation with another human being about it (you should totally share it though, either way).
Who clicked the article just because they think the picture looked like them, and who only clicked it to stay relevant on the Facebook feed?
At least let’s acknowledge how society is being formatted for pocket-screens. Now how can we work to changing our compulsions, obsessions and even addictions before they change us for good?
Take the time to see where you unhealthy habits mold you, and which one of those compulsive actions controls you. The internet isn’t the only thing that reprograms us. Drugs and alcohol do too. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.
(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)
Author: Justin Mckibben
Depression, social media and suicide. These words have a relationship that might not seem obvious all at once, but one that’s been getting some attention recently. However maybe it’s time that social media’s positive influence on the status of suicide and stigma be brought to the public. While it is true that scrolling through status updates and obsessing over ‘likes’, shares and comments is nothing short of unhealthy, is it possible Facebook is helping eliminate stigma from depression?
Megan Moreno is a physician at the Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team (SMAHRT) at Seattle Children’s Hospital. She recently wrote recently about her own experience and opinions regarding the connection of depression to the status of social media, and the relevance of that connection in our socitey. She even nodded to the history of depression as a stigmatizing illness, and discussed that shame and misunderstanding at some of its ugliest moments; in the family.
One of the clearest and most important distinctions I believe Moreno made in her article was that stigma is one of the leading causes of the most severe and tragic side-effects of depression; suicide. Far too many people all over the world have resorted to the most extreme forms of escaping their emotional emptiness, such as self-mutilation or taking their own lives.
While some have speculated that social media has made a large contribution to continued depression, Moreno goes on to note that there has been a recent, subtle but effective shift in stigma has taken place largely online, in such shared spaces for social media including:
In this study the researchers from the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that young adults and adolescents used Facebook up to above 80% in most studies.
During a study on the patterns of college students sharing posts related to drinking on Facebook, a researcher noticed references on a Facebook profile to depression. Throughout the research team members noticed displayed depression symptoms, and after several instances where this was pointed out it became apparent this was not mistake.
The researchers immediately launched a new study to evaluate patterns of depression symptoms being posted on Facebook. The symptoms they referred back to were defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in order to collect definitive data.
The team examined the Facebook profiles of 200 college students for 1 year, and at one point Moreno was shocked to have noted that out of 200 Facebook profiles being referenced, about 25% had one or more references of depression. In some cases a student would only exhibit one post showing signs of depression, and others would create patterns of varying symptoms over the entire year.
Social Media Smashes Depression Stigma
Because of the nature of social media networks, not only were the statistics of students showing signs of depression measured, but so were the responses of their peers. One tremendous factor was that most often friends showed signs of support, not shame and neglect.
This brings up one of the most empowering and inspiring points of this research, which is that the shame and embarrassment once harbored by previous generations and the stigma for depression was not even present! Social media seems to have added a new element that allows for public disclosure to be received and accepted with support and a sense of community.
Follow-up studies by the same researchers found depression symptoms in various social media formats, including:
- About 1/4 to 1/3 of young adults are displayed on their Facebook
- 200,000 Tweets in 1 week using the terms ‘depression’ and ‘depressed
- Self-harm communities sharing photos and offering support on Instagram
Sharing Suicidal Status
With the shattering of stigma by social media, there also comes a swift change in the culture of suicide. Now suicide notes are posted online, and not left to be discovered much too late. This has transformed the suicide note from an afterthought into a cry for help, creating some room for someone to reach out and impact that person’s decision.
There have even been reports of someone sharing something that caused others to act, which ultimately saved lives.
Not all posts are as direct and helpful as others, so sometimes there is not clarity to act upon. Then there is still some evidence to the issue that things like cyber-bullying on social media also make a contribution to depression and suicide.
Taking all factors into consideration, social media has definitely made a mark on the culture of depression and suicide. Some say it has only had an impact in the worst ways, but even though excessive and obsessive habits of using Facebook and social media can create an issue for those suffering from depression, could it also be possible that Facebook has made a vast difference when it comes to stigma and the way the depression is viewed on the public level by our society?
At the end of the day, doesn’t the actual post make the real difference? When you isolate, overshare and constantly compare yourself to the lives others choose to present to you than you are bound to get negative results. Facebook and social media does help the issue of suicide and depression by putting it all out there, removing the shame so common with stigma, and giving people who would normally keep their torment to themselves an avenue to explore for catharsis.
Addiction to drugs and alcohol is a terrible reality, and depression can go with or without that added affliction. Excessive use and dependence on social media can be its own addiction, and with depression it can magnify those feelings you’re struggling to cope with, but there is help. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135