Is Your Smartphone Making You Lonely and Depressed?

Trending News: Being addicted to your smartphone may be bad for your mental health

THE SHORT VERSION

A new study appearing in the journal NeuroRegulation suggests that people who are addicted to their smartphones may be at risk for increased feelings of loneliness and symptoms of depression. 

THE LONG VERSION

I can guarantee you the folks who create apps or run social media platforms aren’t going to like this post. That’s because a new study just came out showing people who are hooked on their phones may experience negative mental health consequences.

Specifically, I’m talking about feelings of loneliness and symptoms of depression. Yep, you read that right. Too much time on your smart-device can mess you up.

According to San Francisco State University Professor of Health Education Erik Peper and Associate Professor of Health Education Richard Harvey, overuse of smartphones can be just like other types of substance abuse.

In a survey of 135 students, Peper and Harvey discovered students who heavily used their smartphones experienced higher levels of isolation, loneliness, depression, and anxiety.

It is their belief that some of the causal reasons can be traced to learners not having enough face to face communications with others.

In addition, the investigators also noticed that the same students who scored higher in “loneliness” also heavily multi-tasked; meaning they were constantly toggling between studying, watching other media, eating or attending class.

They hypothesize that “semi-tasking” [doing two things at once but only being half as effective] offers little time for the mind and body to restore.

“The behavioral addiction of smartphone use begins forming neurological connections in the brain in ways similar to how opioid addiction is experienced by people taking Oxycontin for pain relief — gradually,” Peper shared in a press release.

Referring to this phenomenon as digital addiction, Peper and Harvey believe it is not the fault of smartphone users but instead, the overall tech industry.

“More eyeballs, more clicks, more money,” said Peper.

In some ways, this makes sense. Given the number of push notifications, “beeps” and other alerts we get from our phones, many of us feel compelled to constantly look.

Smartphones – can they contribute to depression?

I’m reminded of the psychological concept known as a “Skinner Box”. Used in operant conditioning, this involves the dynamic where a person receives positive reinforcement for engaging in a desired behavior.

I’ll use slot machines as an example. In the old days, you popped in a quarter, pulled the lever and – if you were lucky – experienced a “hit”. In turn, coins would fall from the machine and onto a steel tray, making a distinct “clink”.

The sound of the coins hitting the metal, plus the bells and whistles, didn’t occur by happenstance. Instead, all of it was designed to get you excited. The goal? To keep you at that machine and continue gambling.

Those notifications on your phone work in much the same way – a chance to be rewarded for checking. Make sense?

Okay – back to the research.

The scientists involved with the smartphone study suggest that because of over usage, our internal messaging system has been altered, resulting in alarms that once warned us of pending danger to improperly work.

“But now we are hijacked by those same mechanisms that once protected us and allowed us to survive — for the most trivial pieces of information,” Peper shared.

It is their belief that all of us need to wean ourselves off technology, similar to how a soda pop junkie might need to stop drinking cola.

Per the press release:

“Peper suggests turning off push notifications, only responding to email and social media at specific times and scheduling periods with no interruptions to focus on important tasks.”

Perhaps the researchers at San Francisco State University are on to something. In recent years, there has been great interest in encouraging people with depression to get away from technology and spend time outdoors.

That’s because the research tells us the more time we spend in nature, the better we feel about ourselves. What are your thoughts? Do you feel tech companies are manipulating you to spend time on your phone?

Has your smartphone cause you to experience an unpleasant mood?

About John D. Moore 320 Articles
Dr. John Moore is a licensed counselor and Editor-in-Chief of Guy Counseling. A journalist and blogger, he writes about a variety of topics related to wellness. His interests include technology, outdoor activities, science, and men's health. Follow him on LinkedIn