Does Cell Phone Addiction Lead To Mental Illness?

By May Wilkerson 03/04/16

A new study may have found evidence of a link between cell phone addiction and depression. 

Does Cell Phone Addiction Lead To Mental Illness?
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Cellphones aren't the problem—it's how we use them. Apparently, spending the majority of our waking lives compulsively staring at our phone screens could do a number on our mental health.

According to a new study from the University of Illinois, addiction to mobile devices is linked to anxiety and depression in college-age students. But using these devices for other reasons, like to distract from boredom or cope with stress, is not necessarily harmful. The results, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, suggest that a person’s motivation for using these devices plays a major role in how the behavior affects mental health.

Alejandro Lleras, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, and undergraduate honors student Tayana Panova surveyed over 300 university students about their mental health, amount of cellphone and Internet use, and what motivates them to use their electronic devices.

The surveys included questions like: "Do you think that your academic or work performance has been negatively affected by your cellphone use?" and "Do you think that life without the Internet is boring, empty and sad?"

Students who described themselves as having “really addictive style behaviors” toward the Internet and cellphones scored much higher for anxiety and depression, said researchers. However, students who said they use technologies mainly to escape boredom did not seem to experience any negative health outcomes.

Researchers also found that cellphones could have a positive impact on how we handle stress. In a follow-up from the first study, Lleras studied how people react to stress when they have, but don’t use, a cellphone. He found that people who were allowed to keep their cellphones during a stressful situation were less likely to be negatively affected by stress than those who did not have their phones.

"Having access to a phone seemed to allow that group to resist or to be less sensitive to the stress manipulation," said Lleras said. Though the benefits were fairly minor, he said having a phone might provide comfort in a time of stress or anxiety. Overall, both studies show that while cell phone addiction could create problems, we may be too quick to dismiss communication technologies as harmful to mental health.

"We shouldn't be scared of people connecting online or talking on their phones," said Lleras. "The interaction with the device is not going to make you depressed if you are just using it when you are bored. This should go toward soothing some of that public anxiety over new technology."

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.