Much has been said about how technology threatens our mental health. In today’s digital workplace, we can never quite switch off from work – we’re always just one email or Slack message away. When we do take a break, we often end up scrolling on social media – where we’re flooded with snapshots of others’ successes and posts about the #hustle.
“Hustle culture is something Gen Zs are very familiar with,” says Wang Ziying, Director of Wellness at Yale-NUS. In a panel on ‘Mental Health Matters to Job Seeking Youths’ at Young NTUC’s LIT DISCOvery 2022, she highlighted the stress fuelled by constant comparisons. “Adding on to that, youths today need to grapple with increasing volatility in the workplace. So much of our working culture and norms have changed in the past few years.”
But technology can also be a force for good. Accelerated by the pandemic, a new wave of digital tools is making mental healthcare smarter and easier. This year’s LIT DISCOvery brought together some of these innovators to help youths discover how tech can enhance wellbeing. Here are four tech-led trends changing the mental health game.
AI is personalising mental health apps
There’s no shortage of wellness apps offering self-care resources today, from meditation apps to mood diaries. But while these tools can provide day-to-day support for your mental health, the guidance they give is inevitably more cookie-cutter than that of a human therapist.
Enter a new breed of emotionally intelligent, AI-powered apps to fill the gap. By ‘learning’ from patterns in vast amounts of clinical data, AI can analyse your mental health needs, recommend personalised strategies for support, and even guide you through treatments like cognitive behavioural therapy.
Take Kura Kura, a homegrown journaling app developed ‘by Gen Zs, for Gen Zs’. Now in its beta launch phase, Kura Kura makes journaling fun with bite-sized check-ins, designed to help individuals and companies understand their mental wellness better. The app’s AI-powered algorithms can perform sentiment analysis based on this data, drawing out insights on your personal or professional wellbeing.
Another intriguing use of AI can be found in chatbots. Head to mindline.sg – a mental health platform launched by the MOH Office for Healthcare Transformation – to chat with Wysa, an adorable AI penguin. Wysa can listen to you vent, ask you about your feelings, and lead you through one of 150 therapeutic techniques. While it’s no substitute for a trained therapist, it can lend a helping hand after a tough day at work.
Gamification – the future of mental health management
You’re likely familiar with fitness apps that turn workouts into games, but gamification is catching on in the mental health world as well.
Increasingly, research finds that gamified mental health interventions for conditions like depression and anxiety can improve user retention, enhancing patients’ resilience more than normal intervention methods. Games can create a safe space for players to explore distressing experiences and practise regulation strategies.
It’s no wonder Silicon Valley psychologist Dr Cameron Sepah predicts that “the next great mental health app will look like Pokémon Go.” Think apps like SuperBetter, which turn life’s challenges into ‘bad guys’ to be defeated. Or #SelfCare, which relaxes players with meditative tasks like word games. Even the medical world is taking note – in 2020, the first-ever prescription video game for children with ADHD was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Then there is Singapore-based app Kura Kura, which gamifies journaling by encouraging you to care for your own kura-kura (‘tortoise’ in Malay). Users complete daily reflections to earn lily pads, which you can use to keep your Kura fed. It’s all the stress-relieving power of journaling, combined with the mood-boosting benefits of caring for a pet.
Opening doors to anonymous mental healthcare
Singapore has come a long way in mental health awareness, but a certain stigma remains – especially in the workplace. A 2021 study by NTUC LearningHub found that 79% of employees still felt the heavy burden of mental health stigma at work, even as over half reported being constantly stressed due to lack of work-life balance.
Opening up about one’s struggles can be daunting in such a culture, let alone visiting a therapist in person. Technology is bridging the gap by making a spectrum of anonymous tools accessible to anyone. While these tools cannot replace professional support, they enable those new to mental health to dip their toes into the idea of seeking help.
A good starting point is mindline.sg’s Depression & Anxiety Assessment. “Our self-assessment tool helps evaluate your depression and anxiety scores,” explains Caleb Tan, Senior Manager, MOH Office for Healthcare Transformation. “From there, we customise specific mental health resources for you depending on whether you’re well, mild, moderate, or in crisis mode.”
During the LIT DISCOvery panel, the question of mental health support for males – who generally struggle to admit vulnerability more than women – was raised. Caleb suggests that anonymous virtual groups or online peer counselling could help pave the way. Technology, he points out, offers an “anonymous outlet where we can put our age and gender aside and just share our feelings.”
Social media is destigmatising mental health
It’s no secret that social media can do a number on our mental health. Studies show correlations between social media use and higher rates of depression and anxiety. Social media can fuel insecurities – especially when our peers seem to be achieving more and living better than ourselves. Even when mental issues are discussed, they often fall into the trap of being trivialised and even stigmatised.
While all these remain problematic, a new breed of influencers is changing the conversation around mental health. Licensed professionals like The Holistic Psychologist and The Secure Relationship have amassed a cult following on Instagram, where they share bite-sized knowledge on research-backed frameworks like attachment theory and the Gottman Method. Meanwhile, hashtags like #thingsmytherapisttoldme have gone viral on TikTok, opening up authentic conversations about personal struggles.
One mental health advocate for Gen Zs to watch is Nur Haziqah Amellia, a psychology undergraduate at NUS. Better known as @thecrazypsychkid on Instagram, she creates insightful reflections and illustrations on life, work, and everything in between. From infographics on grief therapy to a review of her experience at a psychiatric ward, she is part of a movement shattering the mental health stigma on social media.
Enhancing mental health in a digital age
As youths today grapple with increasing uncertainties at work and beyond, making mental health our priority will be more crucial than ever. In an ‘always-on’ digital culture, problems like burnout are far too common. Yet increasingly, technology is also becoming part of the solution, offering the tools to make mental support smarter and more accessible. Striving to harness tech for our own good can make all the difference.
LIT DISCOvery 2022 is an annual career symposium organised by Young NTUC. Themed ‘Immersing Youths in a World of Technology’, this year’s programme featured keynote panels and exploration activities to help youths discover the technology trends shaping work, wellness, and life. Visit our website for the online playbacks of what went down in our Repeat lineup.