Cell Phone Usage and its Link to Depression



Nuno Mestre, Staff Writer

As a teenager in the 21st century, you are most likely addicted to your phone. 

You go to sleep with it charging by your side, you watch YouTube while eating breakfast, and you cannot even pay attention for more than 10 minutes in school without the urge to check your phone.

To be fair, it is not entirely your fault. The world has become a place where messaging is instant and information is easily accessible, so wanting to be on your phone is inevitable. However, it comes to a point where it begins to harm you more than help you.  

As a teen, you spend countless hours typing away and scrolling through twitter feeds and snap stories. In turn, you accomplish nothing. I am not exempt from this; however, I personally have felt a lot happier and healthier after recently decreasing the amount of time I spend on my phone. 

The topic I am researching is the link between phone usage and depression. I am interested in this topic because a lot more of my friends have mentioned feeling depressed now than ever before. While growing up in the late 1900’s and early 2000’s, depression, anxiety, and stress all existed; however, they were not spoken about as frequently as in the modern day. A lot has changed since the late 20th century, including the technology that we use.

One major technological advancement is the wireless cellphone. Since 2007, the cellphone has been able to take pictures, send group texts, and connect its users to social media. While this technology has allowed people to better connect, it has also created many negative effects. The cellphone has hurt the way that people interact, complicated relationships, and caused a rise of depression, stress, and anxiety. I am researching to see if there is a direct correlation between the amount of time that people spend on their phone and their mental health. 

As mentioned before, teenagers spend a great deal of time on social media. Subsequently, it has had serious effects on mental health.

A study done by researcher Larry Rosen in 2013 found that the anxiety derived from missing text messages and not checking social media were critical in predicting depression. Those who found it harder to put the phone down and focus on daily activities were found to have higher risks of depression and anxiety.

Why? What exactly about social media makes it such a hostile environment?

Cognitive psychologist Samuel Hunley suggests that the “fear of missing out” is what drives teenagers to constantly check their devices. Missing out on social events and interactions, many studies find, is what causes many teens to feel anxious and depressed.

The Royal Society for Public Health surveyed 1,500 students in the UK  to see the best and worst social medias accessed by young adults. It was found that Instagram was the most harmful social media platform, followed by Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and finally YouTube, the most positive. This ranking demonstrated that the more personal a social media platform is, the more influential it is on one’s life. People tend to have personal relationships with the people they see on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. Therefore, seeing friends post stories or pictures without them can make one feel lonely and disliked. YouTube and Twitter, on the other hand, are less harmful because they are used for entertainment purposes. There is less personal investment in these platforms, causing them to be less detrimental to people’s mental health.

Further studies provide insight into just how harmful platforms like Instagram can be. An experiment conducted by UCLA’s Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center discovered that when teenagers saw posts with many likes, the area of their brains dedicated to visual attention were activated. However, when shown the same post with fewer likes, their minds were less interested. These results help explain why teenagers delete posts for “not getting enough likes”. Without enough virtual attention, teens begin to think that their lives are not as interesting as other people’s. Their self esteem is lowered, and they become more susceptible to anxiety and depression. 

Social media aside, the usage of phones in general is detrimental to mental health. In 2017, NPR spoke with psychology professor Jean Twenge about a recent study on teenager’s mental health. Twenge found that teens who used their phones for five or more hours a day are seventy-one percent more likely to have one risk factor for suicide. Those who spent two or less hours had a significantly smaller risk.  Additionally, researchers Ha, Chin, Park, Ryu, & Yu published a study in 2008 that showed that excessive phone usage often leads to high anxiety, low self esteem, and trouble expressing emotions. Similarly, research from Thomée, Härenstam, and Hagberg in 2001 found that mobile phone users sending more than eleven texts or calls a day began to experience symptoms of depression. These various studies demonstrate that even those who stay off of social media can suffer mental health issues because of their phones. 

The connection between the excess use of mobile phones and mental disorders is apparent.

My suggestion is that we raise more awareness for the dangers of phone usage through presentations and assemblies in schools.  In addition, I encourage people to set timers on their phones, limiting the amount of time they can spend on each app, especially social media. If the evidence connecting cell phone usage to mental health issues is ignored, the problem may become more and more serious. 

I ask you to think twice before sending your “Snapchat streaks” and posting on Instagram. After all, your phone may not make you as happy as you think it does.