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Forthcoming Book: Mental Health in the Digital Age.


Mental Health in the Digital Age


Sheri Bauman and Ian Rivers

Palgrave Macmillan (release date July, 2015)

An overview of my forthcoming book with Sheri Bauman (University of Arizona) is provided below.

Flyer can be downloaded here

Chapter 1: Introduction

Bauman and Rivers provide a succinct discussion of the possibilities and pitfalls that arise as we increasingly rely upon the Internet and mobile phones for communication and services. Defining mental health and providing a context for this book, the opening chapter offers the reader an opportunity to consider the how our lives are affected by the digital world and the ways in which it now interfaces with our lives offline. Four questions are offered. First, is mental health enhanced or diminished by the digitisation of our world? Are mental health disorders exacerbated or ameliorated in the digital environment? What mental health benefits does the digital world provide? Finally, what mental health difficulties are associated with the advancements in digital technology?

Chapter 2: Mental Health on the Internet: Opportunity or Danger?

The authors examine the quality of mental health information available online. Many users of the Internet seek and locate physical and mental health information on the Internet. The authors discuss the pros and cons of this practice, including that of self-diagnosis using tools available online. They describe how individuals with existing mental health conditions use the Internet and consider the value of Internet support groups (moderated, unmoderated and professionally led). Finally the authors turn to groups that promote certain harmful behaviours (eating disorders, self-harm) and consider what function they serve in society.

Chapter 3: Mental Health Treatments

Here the authors describe a variety of treatments that are available with digital technology. They weigh the benefits and disadvantages of these therapies. Computer-based and mobile phone-delivered treatments are explored. Issues such as substance abuse and eating disorders are considered in terms of the value of digital technology to reduce relapse rates. The authors then explore the use of virtual reality and online games for treatment of mental health disorders and consider professional guidelines for digital forms of therapy.

Chapter 4: Research and Ethics in the Digital Age

Digital technology provides opportunities for research – and research is clearly needed to expand our understanding of the many aspects of cyberspace. The authors consider the issues of conducting research in and on this environment, and discuss the ethical considerations involved. They argue that some forms of research can be accomplished by using meta-data collected by websites (e.g., Facebook or Twitter), but other studies require that the researcher be a participant in the activity. In the offline world, this type of ethnographic study is a respected form of qualitative research, but is the same true of the online environment?  What are the ethical implications of the researcher’s active participation? The potential ethical dilemmas are identified and explored.

Chapter 5: Risks and Resilience in Cyberspace

Here the authors consider the risk factors digital technology presents and discuss how resilience, or the ability to rebound from negative experience, can be developed in the context of cyberspace. They stress that although the media, and to some extent scholarship, have concentrated on risks to children and adolescents, there are risks to all ages, and resilience is important to children and adults alike so that they are able to withstand the inevitable negative experience online. The different risks and opportunities that exist at different stages of life are explored, and the authors examine more closely content-related risks, contact-related risks, and conduct related risks, with a focus on cyberbullying and sexting.

Chapter 6: Social Networking

The phenomenon of social networking is examined in this chapter. Although new social networking sites appear and disappear with relative frequency, two enduring and widely used sites, Twitter and Facebook, are discussed in depth. The authors discuss the presence of trolls, whose behaviour is deliberately shocking and distressing to others, but also focus on positive aspects of social interaction and the opportunities that arise from social networking.

Chapter 7: Being Connected: Friendships and Social Interactions

Many people find that digital technology provides ways to connect to others. Human beings are a social species, and relationships with others are central to mental health. In this chapter Bauman and Rivers explore the ways in which friendships are enacted in cyberspace, and the ways in which online and offline aspects of friendship blur and merge. The qualities of friendship are explored and consideration is given to how those qualities are supported (or not) using digital technology. Attention is paid to the ways in which digital technology influences friendship among special populations, such as LGBT, homeless youth, disabled youth, and the elderly.

Chapter 8: Virtual Worlds

Virtual worlds attract large numbers of people. The authors consider the use of such environments at different life stages, and look closely at two virtual worlds that are exemplars of this genre: World of Warcraft and Second Life. The authors describe the role of these worlds in the lives of special populations, such as LGBT and persons with disabilities. They review the positive impacts these worlds have on the lives of users, and consider the possible harm that can arise from their use.

Chapter 9: Representing ‘the Self’ Online.

There is been much speculation about online portrayal of the self, and Bauman and Rivers consider how the self is represented in the digital world. The discussion begins with an exploration of the distributed self, and the authors consider its application to both the self that is revealed in different platforms, and in the use of avatars. Attention is paid on the fluidity of gender in many online environments, the ways in which offline and online selves merge or diverge, and how the selves we create or express in cyberspace interact with our mental and physical health in the offline world.

Chapter 10: Conclusion

Bauman and Rivers offer their conclusions about mental health and digital technology. They suggest that Mental Health in the Digital Age should be seen as a book that generates further discussion and research, since mental health is essential for overall well-being. They argue that, in a digital age, technology is a feature of life that must be understood as a significant and salient environmental influence on mental health.

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