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New Maui nonprofit sheds light on tech addiction, other mental health issues

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Photo credit: DTS Creative Community.

Some people check their phones more than 160 times a day.

That statistic and other information on the addictive nature of technology were highlighted during a workshop called “Tech Addiction” held by Hauʻoli Piha, a new Maui nonprofit that is aiming to improve mental health among residents. 

“Tech Addiction” last week focused on society’s pervasive technology since the digital revolution and how it impacts people, especially younger ones.

It featured psychologist Dr. Sean O’Hara, who’s certified in Hawai’i and in California, along with Michele Navarro Ishiki, licensed clinical social worker and certified substance abuse counselor in Hawai’i. 

The two discussed the negative impacts of technology on medical and psychological health. 

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People nowadays are rarely “offline” due to regular texts, emails, app alerts, phone calls and other features.

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Even more, social media can foster FOMO, the fear of missing out. 

FOMO is a pervasive apprehension that others may be having rewarding experiences that you are absent from and is driven by social angst and the desire to stay continuously connected, speakers said. It’s been linked to higher alcohol intake.

Aside from impacts to the individual, social media may hurt relationships.

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For example, 33% of divorced couples in the US and 20% of divorced couples in the UK cite Facebook as responsible for the split, speakers said.

The ease of access to past relationships or even strangers leads to increased temptation, inappropriate messages, constant attention, shallow versus real intimacy and can distract couples from the real issues. Also, jealousy, trust and suspicious behaviors become amplified. 

In some cases, technology has led to dangerous behaviors and even death. 

A 12-year-old Colorado girl in 2015 tried to poison her mother with bleach for taking her cell phone, speakers said. That same year, a 17-year-old boy murdered both parents and sister after they took away his cell phone and computer. A high-speed chase with police outside Baltimore, Maryland, led to his death. 

It’s been just more than 20 years since the start of the digital age, and O’Hara said the presentation is reflection on issues still impacting us today. 

“(It’s) what we’re all dealing with in our offices, in our schools, in our clinical practices, we’re seeing this in our workplace, we’re also seeing this in our families,” he said. “This isn’t some information which should be foreign to anybody. These are things that are very current, and very now and very today.”

He added that the pandemic compounded the dark sides of tech addiction and cybercrimes, including bullying, stalking and sexting, “which has absolutely gone rampant since quarantining.”

Navarro Ishiki asked participants to be aware of how often they check their phones during the presentation or within the day.

“Have we been mindful of how connected we are to our devices?” she asked.

Hau’oli Piha’s online and in-person educational session workshops kicked off Thursday with “Tech Addiction” and “Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health and Substance Abuse Disorder.” 

It continues Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with “Cyberbullying, Cyberstalking, Sexting and the Law.”

On Friday, an in-person training session from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday at the J. Walter Cameron Center called “Malama I Na Kahu Malama.” Cost is $50. 

Topics included in the session will be “Self-Care: Why is It Important for Providers?”; “The Ethics of Self-Care”; “Introduction to Therapeutic Music”; and “Collective Trauma (and/or Grief) and the Pandemic.”

Nonprofit Hau’oli Piha seeks to connect people with resources that relieve mental health afflictions, improve joyfulness and help people stay connected to one another. For more information about the organization, visit its website

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