Feeling Down in the Dumps? Your Cellphone May Be to Blame


Need a recipe? Check your smart phone. Need directions? Good thing you’ve got your smartphone handy. Want to know what the weather will look like tomorrow or check up on who just had a baby or who went on vacation? Smartphone to the rescue!

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg, beyond which lie all the social media outlets. Smartphone apps have also become helpful tools for monitoring our physical well being. We use them to count calories and measure our running times and check our pulse. 

One area we may not have considered quite as much, however, is what effect all this smartphone usage has on our mental health.

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, there is a direct link between depression and the amount of time a person spends on their cellphone as well as the number of locations visited by the cellphone user.

As explained in an article by CBS News,

The researchers looked at 28 men and women aged 19 to 58 and tracked their mobile phone habits for a two-week period through an app. The tracking was passive and users did not have to input any information on their own. Before the tracking began, the participants filled out a standardized questionnaire measuring depression.”

What the researchers found at the end of the two weeks was that the participants that spent the most time on their cellphones were also the most depressed. More specifically, the average amount of cellphone use for the depressed participants was 68 minutes a day whereas the non-depressed participants used their phone an average of 17 minutes a day.

A look at GPS tracking data gave researchers an even better idea of what might lead to this type of depression. Indications were that spending most of one's time at home and visiting fewer sites also leads to depression. All of which makes sense, considering one sign of depression is avoiding engagement with the larger world. Depressive participants were more likely to be surfing the web or playing games than engaging with real life friends. 

Admittedly the study was small, offering only a preliminary glimpse at what could be one possible cause for participants’ depression. More information is certainly needed but there could be real life applications of these findings if it turns out that cellphone use and depression are truly linked.

Will doctors be more likely to suggest that their depressive patients taper off their smartphone use? An article in the Christian Science Monitor  quotes Sohrob Saeb, lead author on the study as saying,

We will see if we can reduce symptoms of depression by encouraging people to visit more locations throughout the day, have a more regular routine, spend more time in a variety of places, or reduce mobile phone use."

Other solutions may include participating in the growing number of digital detox programs, which help participants to wean themselves off of their phone usage.

Image via Flickr


Read all articles by Juniper Briggs

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