An Unsung Hero of the COVID-19 Pandemic… Technology

Technology plays a huge role in preserving mental health in the COVID-19 crisis.

Posted Apr 13, 2020

By: Tiffany Tran, Lacey Tezino, Tina Marie Baugh, & Michelle Patriquin

Shutterstock Used With Permission
Source: Shutterstock Used With Permission

It is no secret that technology can both benefit and harm our mental health. Many studies have noted technology's association with higher levels of depression and anxiety and how issues like cyberbullying have been on the rise. However, with COVID-19 putting the entire world in extended periods of social isolation, technology has been crucial in the preservation of our mental health.

Social Media and Social Networking

Social media allows us to stay connected to each other during this time of social distancing and isolation. Whether that be through platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, or Twitter, we are able to bond together through this moment in time. Researchers have conducted studies examining social connectedness and found that fostering relationships through social media can result in gaining a sense of community, increasing one’s social networks and the willingness to help each other, and a reduction in loneliness. Because we cannot go out due to the risks of contracting or spreading the novel coronavirus, many people have turned to fostering social connections through social media, online gaming, video/phone calls, or texting.

Although we cannot see our family and friends face-to-face, being able to talk to them through phone calls or texts or see them through FaceTime can provide comfort and solace through this difficult time. For example, many hospitals have begun to restrict visitors to prevent the spread of the infection to hospital patients, a vulnerable population. Because of this temporary policy change, many patients have turned to FaceTime or video chatting through Zoom or Skype to see their loved ones. Social support is an important contributor to our mental health right now, especially to those in extreme isolation, and studies have shown how it can decrease anxiety and stress across all populations.

Work and School Applications

With a majority of the nation on a stay-at-home order, many companies now have a remote workforce. Some high schools and universities have had to transition to online classes for the rest of the school year. Because of this unique situation, companies, churches, and schools have had to begin using applications like Zoom or Microsoft Teams to stay in touch with each other. IT departments all over the country have had to quickly find a way for their organizations to function just as smoothly as they did before COVID-19.

While productivity may decrease during this time, working or learning from home can provide some normalcy or serve as a distraction. Seeing the familiar faces of your coworkers or classmates and talking to them about your experiences can help promote a sense of solidarity and community needed to maintain our mental health as this situation goes on.

Medical Needs

As shortages of ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) continue to be a rising issue, large and small technology companies have stepped up and begun to develop websites, software, and equipment to combat this crisis. For example, Dyson, a company known for vacuums and hair dryers, designed a ventilator in just 10 days that would take into consideration individual patient needs and is suited for a variety of clinical settings. 3D printing companies have been contributing in a huge way in response to the medical equipment shortage by making ventilators, face shields, and nasal swabs. Companies like these are able to alleviate the stress caused by the lack of PPE or lifesaving equipment in the medical community and in turn alleviate the stress of patients and their families.

Telemedicine and telehealth have also become more common during these times of social distancing. Many healthcare professionals, including mental health professionals, have begun to utilize video chats and phone calls when speaking to patients. Some health systems are also partnering with companies that make devices like mobile electrocardiograms or software devices that monitor temperature, blood pressure, and respiration. This allows the medical community to provide quality healthcare while limiting the spread of infection, keeping hospital beds open to those who truly need them, and preserving PPE. Access to high-quality healthcare without the threat of contracting the virus takes a huge burden off an individual’s anxiety and stress levels.

Unsung Heroes

This global health crisis calls for all of us to band together – whether as healthcare workers on the frontlines, the computer scientists managing servers dedicated to supporting videoconferencing platforms, engineers rapidly designing new ventilators systems, or those of us abiding by stay-at-home orders. Our healthcare workers are exceptional and are making unbelievable daily sacrifices to save lives throughout this pandemic. But, let us not forget, that for those fortunate to be safe and healthy in our homes, there are many unsung heroes promoting our mental health: those individuals in server rooms, behind computers, analyzing data, that make sure we have the stable technology available to maintain our mental health by allowing us to stay connected while being apart.

References

About The Menninger Clinic Authors:

Tiffany Tran is a research assistant whose research interests include children and adolescent populations, family dynamics and relationships, and cross-cultural issues.

Lacey Tezino is the Manager of Clinical Applications and Solutions. She leads the optimization efforts for clinical documentation in the electronic health record (EHR) and Microsoft Teams learning and adoption.

Tina Marie Baugh is the Director of Information Technology and Health Information Management. She specializes in deploying innovative IT solutions with high performing teams.

Michelle Patriquin, Ph.D., ABPP  is the Director of Research and is a board-certified clinical psychologist. She is an assistant professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine. Her research interests include the development and use of new technology to improve mental health outcomes.