The Link between Cell Phone Use, Anxiety & Depression

July 5, 2016
The Link between Cell Phone Use, Anxiety, and Depression

Nearly 5 billion people use mobile phones throughout the world, while 3 billion users access the Internet on a regular basis. Unfortunately, a new study suggests this activity could indicate anxiety and depression, especially when people use technology to escape from stress.
A Security Blanket
In a two-part study aimed at assessing how cell phone use might impact mental health, researchers at the University of Illinois surveyed 300 undergraduate students. After reviewing the answers to several strategic questions, the researchers found that subjects who described themselves as having addictive-style behaviors toward cellphones and the Internet scored much higher on anxiety and depression scales.
In the second part of the study, these same researchers asked 72 undergraduates to spend five minutes writing about a weakness or personal flaw that made them feel uncomfortable. They then left the subjects alone for several minutes while they "reviewed" the answers. During this time, one-third of the participants were allowed access to their cellphones, while another third enjoyed access to computer games and the final third enjoyed no access to any sort of technology.
After a follow-up assessment, researchers found that subjects who were allowed to use their cellphones were 64 percent less likely to experience anxiety. At the same time, they found that 82 percent of the anxious members of the cellphone group turned to their devices during the waiting time, while only half of non-anxious members chose to access their phones.
The Chicken or the Egg?
Appearing in the publication, Computers in Human Behavior, this recent study seems to indicate a strong tie between depression, anxiety and cell phone use. That said, it's not clear whether technology has a causal effect or if it merely provides an escape for people experiencing negative feelings.
According to the researchers, their study does not suggest that smartphones cause negative psychological conditions. After all, it is absolutely reasonable to assume that people will look for distractions during times of emotional stress. Still, addictive cell phone behaviors could be a strong indicator of depression or anxiety. Armed with this knowledge, parents may have an easier time noticing when their children are struggling with emotional or psychological issues.

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