BYU experts share how to use technology to improve mental health

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BYU technology experts say active, positive use of screen time to make and maintain connections can help boost mental health during COVID-19 distancing and isolation. (Whitney Bigelow via Canva)

BYU professors and other technology experts have noticed the effects that technology and social media have on mental and physical health in recent years.

Because of increased online interactions during the pandemic, many are experiencing negative effects on their mental health, such as feelings of isolation, depression and anxiety, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to BYU experts, there are ways to use technology to help improve your mood and keep mental health in check despite the circumstances.

School of Family Life associate director Sarah Coyne studies the effects of media on children and families, including media violence, video game addiction, and gender and body image.

In 2019, Coyne completed a study that found it is not the amount of time spent on technology and social media that affects mental health. Instead, it is the way someone spends screen time — whether they are “active” or “passive” users.

Coyne said actively interacting with positive content and liking, sharing and uplifting others virtually constitutes “active” use, which is a healthier way to interact online than the “passive” behaviors of observing and scrolling.

“It’s important to be really mindful of your social media use and making sure that we are not just scrolling,” Coyne said.

The amount of time one spends on screens has increased with online school, work and social lives. Coyne said this increase makes young adults more likely to be “passive” users of technology.

School of Family Life professor Quintin Hunt also researches media effects on health, especially relating to mental health and suicide. He said using technology to connect with others during this time in positive ways can help boost our mental health.

Madelyn Neeley, a senior studying editing and publishing, said she has personally observed her peers and herself feeling the effects of technology and isolation. While Neeley has some in-person classes, she said she struggles when she is doing online classes all day.

“It’s so hard to work up the motivation to really engage with the class. It’s hard to find energy to really do anything because I am not getting that social interaction that I really want that helps me actually enjoy the class,” she said.

Neeley tries to get out with friends when possible while following COVID-19 precautions, she said.

Hunt stressed the importance of staying connected to others and valuing our own relationships despite physical distance. “Never be afraid to reach out to somebody about their mental health.”

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