Human beings are the biggest unpredictable variables we have out there. Our ability to trigger as well as solve for each other’s frailties and challenges are critical factors when it comes to mental health.
Our interpersonal relationships have a huge potential to help each other and lead happy and satisfactory lives. We have the power of compassion in us to help each other break glass ceilings and concrete walls and move humanity to the next level. Why don't we use them copiously, then? Why are we so stingy when it comes to enabling each other?
Human relationships, some think, are being underestimated in our battle against mental health crises. Technology is overrated, they believe. After all, how can mental health — a human problem, be solved by technology? How technology can even understand what’s going on with us?
Technology as the intermediary layer
Technology as the middle-man between human beings is consistently projected out to be the critical reason for a lot of our mental health problems. Older generations have had problems with new technologies that seem to overcomplicate their lives and oversimplify the next generations’ life at the same time. From books, phones, television to the internet, we have consistently seen this criticism of new technologies by the older generation. It’s not good for the world, they pronounce. It’s making a mockery of human relationships, they say. It’s degrading the culture, they cry.
While its common sense that human connection is a critical part of mental health, taking human interactions as an absolute good has its flaws.
Many of us, don't know how to use our humanity as a way to help each other. Technology as a mediator to orchestrate experiences in which we can connect deeply with each other — has a decisive role to play in this context.
The problem — Mental Health as a skill
Mental health as a skill to be built in our minds — as a solution for every challenge is not just unattainable but also keeps the individual busy chasing her own tail. Each mental health challenge an individual faces, has its root in society, systems, and the individual’s mind. Projecting that the mind alone can break any challenge while hugely gratifying to the ego, is not going to have much impact on turning the tide with regard to our mental health challenges.
We rely on certain psychological elements in our environment for our wellbeing. Like we depend on air for breathing. For example, I find a lot of meaning in travel. My ability to spend my time and money on travel is important to construct this meaning. My social system, skills, environment, and opportunities are key to engaging with this valuable act consistently. Apart from travel, a deep connection to myself and my work, the power of my community to help me out during difficult times, sharing and connecting with other community members — are some things I rely on for my sanity. In some cultures, people rely on the government to provide social security and safety from unemployment. We rest ourselves on these pillars of support and construct our psychological well-being around them. When one or more of these pillars get damaged or worse, removed — our ability to maintain our well-being is in serious trouble.
Akin to the corona pandemic, newer dangers are going to make any such reliance shaky in the future. So technology, which is an alter-ego in the form of phones and game consoles, can provide such psychological pillars of support that otherwise becomes unavailable or difficult to attain. This is going to play a key part in propagating emotional wellbeing in the future.
The individual still has to develop muscles for emotional intelligence and resilience. But in a world where the systems, technologies, and societies create new challenges, asking the individual to learn and solve for each one of them by organically absorbing information and retraining their brain — is ridiculous. It’s okay to rely on our washing machines and refrigerators and motorcycles to enable our physical environments. But when it comes to psychological enablement, everything has to reside inside our minds! This pressure in itself is creating newer forms of challenges for individuals. A ridiculous outcome of such an approach is when organizations create situations for employee mental health to worsen, then send the same individuals to a psychologist who focuses on the individual’s mind than on the organizational constraints that trigger the challenges in the first place. Such a focus on the individual alone to break their mental health challenges is not just dangerous, it's a crime.
Orchestrating compassion in individuals
Using technology for something as simple as human connection feels like an oversell. Be it religion, prayer, places of worship, festivals, etc. — these are all aspects of our life that we consider integral. And each of them has a core contribution of enabling human connection and relationships.
While technology is not a necessity in every life situation, it can add new layers of depth and control to what was a simple and one-size-fits-all approach to living.
WhatsApp, for example, is a form of mediation to social and interpersonal interaction. But one thing WhatsApp brought in — was control, for the individual to decide when and how the conversation starts and stops. While the app might not be useful in enabling deep human connection, it’s very useful in reducing the risk people face in human interactions — bringing down the cognitive costs involved in awkwardness and conflict. While a huge dependence on the app can create problems of its own (which it does), it’s important for such channels to exist for people to avoid being psychologically injured by human interactions.
Having a guide or a counselor in the family, one who can talk about family relationships and ancestral pain has always been important. While therapists are taking this role increasingly, it’s not a scalable solution, especially for countries that have very few trained professionals. While it is possible for us to train individuals to be able to be of help to each other, the time and money costs involved are a huge barrier. Technology can mediate such life experiences where we can use our compassion for better use for each other.
Building technology-based experiences to orchestrate more compassion in each other is going to be key if we were to attack the mental health crisis of today in a formidable way.
Human relationships and connections are huge sources of better mental health. By sharing our experiences and providing compassion to others — we can hugely enable each other's intelligence. While social systems have been able to go only so far in enabling people to help each other, technology and digital environments can move the scale upwards by a few notches. By truly enabling people to modulate and share their compassion with each other in controlled environments, we can achieve mental health for the next generation much faster and in a democratic fashion. Technology’s role, then, is in enabling individuals to interact with themselves and others with the purpose of better emotional wellbeing.