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Alberta Blue Cross campaign raises awareness for youth mental health

By Pamela Freeman, October 27 2021—

The Alberta Blue Cross’ Feelings Over Phones campaign hopes to bring awareness to the impacts of smartphone use on mental health in young adults. Through a variety of social channels, they are bringing awareness to underlying daily habits surrounding phones that can affect an individual’s overall well-being.

“The campaign is kind of tongue-in-cheek,” said Melanie Fuller, the Director of Wellness at the Alberta Blue Cross. It relies on the very technology it is trying to change our relationship with.

The campaign features a website for self-assessment and reflection on phone use. An Instagram filter gives users a gentle way to nudge friends to put down their phones. There are links to headversity, an app to build resilience, and More Good Days, a text based mental health service. Fuller says the campaign is not about lecturing, “but it’s a fun way to bring awareness” to the broad effects that small habits have.

“Individuals may not know the impact that it has on their friendships or on their own personal well-being,” Fuller said. Instead of providing connection, phones can distract from quality communication and use can lead to more feelings of anxiety and isolation.

“What are some of the underlying anxieties or fears that you might have,” Fuller asked, “that you’re really relying on your phone for that are interacting and affecting those meaningful and personal moments?” 

Fuller recognizes the importance of technology in remaining connected to family, friends and the outside world, especially during times of isolation and loneliness during the pandemic. Social isolation has been both a cause and perpetrator of poor mental health over the last year and a half.

Our devices, however, are presenting a barrier to connection as we return to socializing in person. Reaching for a phone during any moment of pause can speak to a reliance on it that may affect an individual’s mental health and relationships. 

“There is a lot of research that’s indicating that it’s not really creating the same meaningful connections,” Fuller explained. “They are still feeling this distraction with their device, they’re not really interacting in meaningful and personal ways with their peers.” 

There is decreased relationship satisfaction when phones are present, and these negative effects are noted for the person using the phone and also the people being ignored. The social connection or emotional regulation that phones may seem to provide can take away from those same benefits provided by the people around you. 

The campaign suggests some tips to reduce phone usage when with loved ones, including keeping phones out of sight and setting them to silent. 

“This is above all nothing to villainize technology, we absolutely rely on technology more than we ever have before,” Fuller said. It is important to be aware of how phones remove us from engaging and connecting, and Feelings Over Phones is just one way the Alberta Blue Cross recognizes this.  

The Alberta Blue Cross has seen a lot of engagement with the campaign and are leaving the webpage — with all of its tips, tricks and tools — open after it ends on Oct. 10. They hope to continue bringing awareness to these habits, as a behavior cannot change if we are not aware of it. 

“[If the campaign] creates a bit of a different thought […] a bit of a different intention, that’s what success is to us,” Fuller said. 

They also hope to continue bringing awareness to the mental health resources featured. Fuller explained that people can use them to find resources no matter where they are on their personal health journey. The services aim to be accessible, personal and flexible.

If you or a loved one are looking for mental health support, the Alberta Blue Cross care navigation page provides assessment tools and publicly available services. At the University of Calgary, the Wellness Centre provides services for students.

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