Swiping, scrolling, clicking, scanning. The list goes on. The internet is an unforgiving space when it comes to your mental health and you may often find yourself getting swallowed in this massive gaping lacuna of sorts. While we do empathise with this, is tech really the only reason for the misery of the mind? Let’s find out. But first, to explore the very mystic Japanese concept of hikikomori.
The curious case of Hikikomori
The concept is a Japanese one that describes people who are severely addicted to the Internet and cut off all forms of social contact. Those who simply sit isolated in their parent’s house, in a room by themselves, refusing to have a conversation with just about anyone, and only resorting to the Internet for their needs.
While this does sound similar to a majority of adolescents, hikikomori is an aggressive form of modern-day adolescent behaviour. How unhealthy is it?
This excessive kind of social withdrawal can have severe mental health implications, causing people to experience symptoms like psychosis. Then again, if the extent of symptoms is severe in people who are engaged in hikikomori, what about the majority of the world’s population which is equally addicted to tech and the Internet?
Why is tech making you sad?
Internet overuse can actually be a precursor to depression according to science. A study conducted by researchers in Australia and China that studied the Internet habits of teens suggested that those addicted to the Internet were 2.5 times more likely to develop depression compared to other normal users.
The study indicated that “Young people who are initially free of mental health problems but use the Internet pathologically could develop depression as a consequence. As we understand that mental health problems among adolescents bear a significant personal cost as well as costs to the community, early intervention and prevention that targets at-risk groups with identified risk factors is effective in reducing the burden of depression among young people.”
This is ironic, as most people use the Internet as a way to stop being sad and lonely and get company.
Can the Internet really help your loneliness?
New York Times bestselling author Johan Hari in his 2018 book Lost Connections wrote, “Facebook friends in place of neighbours, video games in place of meaningful work, status updates in place of status in the world.”
This encapsulates exactly what people look towards the internet for. A hope that it will offer them some company, respite from the gloom and even enable them to make some friends. And so the cycle continues. You make virtual friends who make you part of their virtual sparkling life and you compare it to yours and find so many aspects missing and thus get sad and depressed and so make more virtual friends who can help you with the loneliness. A vicious cycle as they call it.
All said and done though, is it justified to say that all our modern-day problems are due to tech and its evolution?
Should you be blaming your declining mental health on tech?
To find the answers to this question, studies have been conducted. Not on people who belong to the 5G era, but on those who still believe in living in the moment. The Tsimane tribes in the Bolivian lowlands have been a group that has been extensively studied over the years. Why? Because they are remotely located and far from the rest of the developing world, with little access to what is going on outside. In 2002, anthropologists started the Tsimane Health and Life History Project. Since then, the Tsimane tribes have been a favourite of researchers and those studying human behaviour.
The Tsimane tribes and their livelihood and lifestyle would shock the modern person. They love their community life, are exposed to a number of pathogens on a daily basis, and are living in primitive conditions. Yet, their health reports are impressive. But even though one might assume they are at their best, there is one condition that they haven't been able to evade and that is depression.
Why are the Tsimane people depressed?
Researchers conducted a study to assess to what extent these people experience depression and drew a scale in order to understand the comparisons between Western people’s experiences and theirs. It was found that the number who experience constant sadness was twice the percentage of Americans who experienced constant sadness in 2019. When probed, researchers found the main reasons for this tribe experiencing unhappiness in spite of living in a community and not having much access to tech were social conflict and physical injury.
This finding caused researchers to suggest that even in modern societies tech and its addictions may be harmful, but what may be contributing majorly to feelings of depression could be unresolved social conflicts, ill health and issues that eat away at the mind.
While the pursuit is still on to find out why we are so prone to feeling sad and whether technology is worsening our conditions, it might also do good to focus on how our interpersonal relations are as important, taking a leaf out of the book of the Tsimane tribes.