On average, Americans check their smartphones 96 times a day. And young people aged 18-24 check their phones nearly double the national average. With mindless scrolling through social media, constant news updates, unexpected text messages, and other random notifications distracting us, it’s no wonder researchers have found a link between smartphone dependency and depression.
In general, most research on the topic of mental health and smartphones has been mixed. It is hard to conduct a genuine test using these two variables because it’s difficult to say which comes first: Are we depressed because of our dependency on smartphones, or do we rely on our smartphones because we struggle with depression and anxiety? Smartphones play a huge and important role in our lives. We carry them everywhere we go and use them to navigate nearly every part of our modern lives. So if this dependency is impacting our mental health, what should we do about it?
Smartphones Dependence and Depression
People who are prone to smartphone dependence may be more likely to suffer from depression. In other words, smartphones can act as a trigger for those who are generally at higher risk for mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Essentially, these devices are highly addictive and can act as an adult pacifier. As with any kind of addiction, the more readily available the drug, the worse the addiction.
Because we need our phones to communicate with everyone from friends and family to work colleagues, it can be extremely difficult to wean ourselves off this damaging habit. Unlike alcohol or drugs, we actually need our smartphones in today’s society. The question becomes: How can we change our habits when we carry our drug – our digital drug – everywhere we go? The solution is to develop positive habits so our smartphones work with us, rather than against us, in creating a healthy lifestyle.
Smartphones Bridging the Gap to Support
When we are lonely or depressed, smartphones can be useful. We can connect with others through text messages, phone calls, and videos. With the use of apps like FaceTime, it can feel as though we are in the same room as someone miles away. We can check in on neighbors, loved ones, and reconnect with friends from years ago. Those conversations can make us feel loved, needed, and supported.
So while our phone may be contributing to our depressive symptoms, they also have the power to alleviate them. The key when we are feeling stressed or depressed is to consider why we use technology in the first place. Ask yourself how your smartphone use helps you care for yourself and accomplish your goals. Then ask yourself how it detracts from your life ambitions and well-being.
The answers to those questions can lead to healthier ways of coping. Rather than mindlessly scrolling through news or social media, choose to feel grounded and in control by using apps that contribute to your sense of wellbeing, such as various exercise apps, meditation apps, and breathing apps.
If, for example, social media apps cause you to spiral into depression, it might be helpful to simply delete them off your phone completely. Creating a critical distance from the negative aspects of smartphones can make a big difference to a person’s mental health.
Treating Depression Through Smartphones
Of course, mobile devices can also be used as tools for actually treating depression. The use of therapy apps can be an effective solution for getting help. Whether it’s for treating depressive symptoms that are related to your usage of smartphones or not, there are therapy platforms with thousands of mental health professionals that are available to help you work through your issues. If you prefer to engage in treatment in way that does not involve your phone, seek out local help from a licensed professional. The important thing is that you take positive steps towards improving your situation and living a healthier, happier life.
- Asurion-sponsored survey by Market Research Firm Solidea Solutions conducted August 18-20, 2019 of 1,998 U.S. smartphone users, compared to an Asurion-sponsored survey conducted by market research company OnePoll between Sept. 11 – 19, 2017 of 2000 U.S. adults with a smartphone.
- Lapierre, M. A., Zhao, P., & Custer, B. E. (2019). Short-Term Longitudinal Relationships Between Smartphone Use/Dependency and Psychological Well-Being Among Late Adolescents. The Journal of adolescent health : official publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, 65(5), 607–612. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2019.06.001
- San Francisco State University. (2018, April 11). Digital addiction increases loneliness, anxiety and depression: Study suggests ways to outsmart smart phones. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 9, 2021 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180411161316.htm