Smartphone addiction more common for people with anxiety, depression: study

A study says that those with anxiety or depression are more likely to suffer from smartphone addiction. Tom Odulate

Those who struggle with mental health problems are more likely to be addicted to their smartphones, according to a recently published study.

Psychologists at U.K.’s University of Derby and Nottingham Trent University conducted a study collecting information from 640 smartphone users between the ages of 13 and 69.

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The study found that those who live with illnesses such as anxiety or depression, or those who have family problems to an extent that they are “emotionally unstable,” are more dependent on the devices. Individuals who are more “closed off,” or who have trouble communicating emotions, are also more likely to struggle with the problem.

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Professor Zaheer Hussain from the University of Derby, who helped conduct the study, said the findings prove that human relationships with smartphones may be more complicated than perceived.

“Our research has highlighted the interplay of various psychological factors in the study of smartphone use,” he said in a press release.

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Lesli Musicar, a Toronto-based therapist, said addiction to smartphones works the same way as alcohol or drug addiction.

“All kinds of obsessive-compulsive behaviours have to do with coping with pain. It could be emotional pain, feeling abandoned or feeling afraid,” she told Global News.

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“It’s something to hang on to, to help you feel more secure and less obvious in your discomfort.”

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The therapist added that addiction to smartphones, while still not healthy, may be less risky than others.

“Phones are sometimes more socially acceptable and less dangerous than other habits. I think it’s a better way of distracting yourself than using drugs or alcohol.”

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What is nomophobia?

Addiction to smartphones has been the subject of several studies in the recent past. Among them was one out of City University in Hong Kong, which suggested nomophobia — separation anxiety from smartphones — is real.

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The August 2017 study said those who experience separation from their smartphones can have an increased heart rate, anxiety, high blood pressure and other unpleasant feelings.

Another study from last year also insisted smartphone separation anxiety is real. Researchers at the University of Missouri took away cellphones of participants and found similar symptoms of stress and anxiety occur.

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How to get help

Musicar says those who find themselves struggling with the problem of excessively depending on smartphones to cope with mental health should address underlying issues — not just limit screen time.

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That means seeking help for anxiety, depression, or any other mental health ailment that may be worsening the addiction.

“If they don’t deal with what’s underlying it, they’ll just change the focus to something else,” Musicar explained.

“And that’s what happens with addiction. People might stop using alcohol, but if they don’t get to the root of what led them to use alcohol, they’ll just turn to something else.”

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