The risk of depression and loneliness is high for people addicted to their smartphones, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Arizona.
Multiple studies have linked depression and loneliness symptoms with smartphone dependency. However, it is not known whether lonely and depressed people become more reliant on their phones or of the digital device itself can give rise to the issue.
Close to 346 older adolescents between the ages of 18 and 20 participated in the study. The researchers decided to focus their study on older adolescents. "It might be easier for late adolescents to become dependent on smartphones, and smartphones may have a bigger negative influence on them because they are already very vulnerable to depression or loneliness," communication master's student Pengfei Zhao, who co-authored the study, told a news portal.
The team wanted to focus their investigation on the psychological reliance on smartphones."The research grows out of my concern that there is too much of a focus on general use of smartphones," study co-author Matthew Lapierre, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, told a news portal. Adding, "Smartphones can be useful. They help us connect with others. We've really been trying to focus on this idea of dependency and problematic use of smartphones being the driver for these psychological outcomes. "
Participants answered questions that could help measure loneliness, as well as depressive symptoms, and rate a series of statements like "I panic when I cannot use my smartphone."
The group had to answer these questions twice - at the beginning of the study and then a few months later.
The team discovered smartphone dependency is a higher indicator of depressive symptoms and loneliness. "The main takeaway is that smartphone dependency directly predicts later depressive symptoms," Lapierre told a news portal. Adding,"There's an issue where people are entirely too reliant on the device, in terms of feeling anxious if they don't have it accessible, and they're using it to the detriment of their day-to-day life."
Being able to better understand the association between smartphone dependency and negative psychological outcomes can help researchers tackle the problem with better strategies. "If depression and loneliness lead to smartphone dependency, we could reduce dependency by adjusting people's mental health," Zhao told a news portal. Adding, "But if smartphone dependency (precedes depression and loneliness), which is what we found, we can reduce smartphone dependency to maintain or improve wellbeing."
The team hopes the findings encourage people to look for an alternative way to deal with stress instead of reaching out for their phones. "When people feel stressed, they should use other healthy approaches to cope, like talking to a close friend to get support or doing some exercises or meditation," Zhao told a news portal. Adding,"The work we're doing is answering some essential questions about the psychological effects of smartphone dependency," he said. "Then we can start asking, 'OK, why is this the case?'"
The study's findings were originally published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
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