By Karen Whitney Maturure
Just a few days after widespread festivities, celebrating the new year in 2020, the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) as a public health emergency of international concern and soon after the virus quickly brought the world to its knees.
In the beginning most of us felt we would soon wake up from the nightmare, but even now the nightmare continues as hundreds of thousands of people continue to be infected and thousands more lose their lives daily.
As the modus operandi continues, many of us have been left on the brink of insanity or immersed in unending stress, grief, depression and other psychological issues due to the anxiety associated with the harrowing headlines, isolation due to unending lockdowns, sudden retrenchments or halt to business, pain of losing loved ones and even more so the fear of death or the unknown.
Covid-19 threatens human life, threatens livelihoods, and threatens the way of life of every single individual in every location on the planet.
We may not have realised it but between the sharing of memes on social media and video calls with family, technology has emerged victorious/ central where strategies to combat the mental challenges that come with Covid-19 are concerned.
Various technologies have played a significant role after schools were shut down during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The most obvious way in which technology is helping many people to cope with the new Covid era, is how it has enabled people to stay connected by telephone and online channels despite movements being restricted.
During recurring lockdowns, people have found it helpful to use video conferencing to experience “family time”.
Leveraging technology such as online calendars has helped people to come up with a daily routine for exercise, chores, work and family time.
This has been found to be beneficial for addressing mental health conditions including depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder.
Peer support through social media use, such as Facebook, has helped people to put aside their negative emotions through following positive and hopeful stories that have emerged as hundreds of Covid-19 survivors share their journeys for example.
These platforms have also been providing positive and supportive connections or companionship, advice, financial assistance emotional care and advice during a time of physical isolation.
Earlier work shows that many people with mental illness are increasingly turning to social media to share their experiences and seek mental health information and advice.
Social media platforms have also enabled easy access to information for evaluating health-related risks.
Technology has also meant greater access to emotional support via the use of free wellness mobile phone apps that are designed to help understand and control the emotions generated by isolation and confinement.
Studies have shown that these applications help decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Even in cases of psychological crises, mobile applications and helplines have been generated.
Some of the applications such as Here for You-Snapchat, Snap Inc, Gestioemocional.cat and Covid Coach — can be used regardless of the geographical area of residence and are found on Android and Apple app stores, as well as Google.
People are now more than ever consuming news media, watching television as well as utilising lifestyle apps to shop for groceries and other consumer goods, and engaging in home workouts.
Additionally, students are more reliant on this information function for educational purposes.
The media platforms assist in adopting virtual learning and teaching models to continue providing education in the interim of the Covid-19 pandemic.
At the same time, virtual transactions and virtual reality can offer an escape from isolation as they visit shops and stores.
Hundreds of community help platforms have been born under Covid-19 where individuals can request and offer assistance in their communities.
The features include diverse support such as groceries, other supplies, etc.
Even more significant is the role of software for therapy sessions during the Covid-19 pandemic in the forms of tele-therapy or digital therapy as well as tele-psychiatry.
Text messaging platforms have also been helpful in combating the mental health challenges evoked by Covid-19.
Because texts are also delivered via individuals’ devices, are easy to send to thousands instantly using automated text-messaging platforms. These text-messaging interventions have demonstrated effectiveness in behavioural health promotion and disease management.
Automated text-messages, containing tips on coping with social distancing and Covid-19 anxiety have been very useful while for crisis situations, crisis hotlines provide free confidential help via text-message.
However, the positive experience at media platforms and online experiences may lead to developing a close emotional bonding to social media use, which leads to addiction as there is no stop point to scrolling.
Again, mounting studies specified that negative data in the form of endless coronavirus-related newsfeeds and death numbers considerably increased the risk of global mental health issues and a serious worldwide infodemic.
This in turn has eroded public trust and affecting the containment of the virus. On the other hand, games may make people more stressed and reading quotes about other peoples’ depression may awaken feelings of the depression.
After all is said and done, the Covid-19 crisis has indeed fast-forwarded the use of technology in mental health care.
However, too much of anything becomes poison and hence there is need for people to make sure to maintain the right balance with off-line activities in their daily routine.
Most importantly we must all stay hopeful for a better tomorrow because it shall surely arrive.
- Karen Whitney Maturure lives for writing, researching and, most importantly, development work. She can be reached on email: firstname.lastname@example.org