The correlation between phone usage and mental health

Claire Mulkey

The depression and anxiety epidemics have swept across the youth population in America. There are many possible causes for this outbreak of mental illness, but a common suspect is the phone. Parents all over the country blame their children’s issues on their phone usage, making teenagers complain about their “old” parents, but is it possible that cell phones have caused the rise in adolescent depression and anxiety?

Researchers are not sure if phone usage directly causes these conditions, but believe that they may “…just exacerbate existing depression and anxiety,” become “…a coping mechanism,” and/or create “a need for touch, anxiety, and depression”(Is Your Mobile Phone Use Bad for Your Mental Health?, Jordan Rosenfeld). Researcher Jean Twenge’s studies “found that teens who spend 5 or more hours per day on their devices are 71% more likely to have one risk factor for suicide”(The Risk of Teen Depression and Suicide is Linked to Smartphone Use, Study Says, Lulu Garcia-Navarro). To some, 5 hours may sound like an extreme amount of time. Those same people may be surprised to learn that from a study conducted at Roswell High School, the average screen time per day is 5.6 hours. Participate in the study here!

According to Twenge’s studies, this would mean that the average Roswell student is more likely to have a risk factor for suicide. 

The same local study found that, of the 62 students surveyed at the time of this article’s publication, almost 18% have been clinically diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety. When asked if students felt that they were depressed or anxious, 70% said yes. These statistics show how widespread these issues are in America and in our own Roswell. 

The lowest screen time recorded was just under 2 hours, while the highest was much more than half a day. Can it be argued that technology has no relation to depression and anxiety? Yes. Does it seem probable that excess screen time is a cause of depression and anxiety? Yes. 77% of student body participants agree that phone usage is linked to these mental illnesses, while 23% believe there is no correlation. 

Why is this an issue? Rosenfeld says that “…for people who already have trouble regulating negative emotions or tend to suppress them; they may turn to the phone as a coping mechanism” (Is Your Mobile Phone Use Bad for Your Mental Health?) If students use their phones, which are capable of giving many great things, like long distance communication, soothing music and transfer of valuable information, as a way to escape their problems, they could begin to experience some of the negative effects of phones, in addition to their already existing mental health problems. Cell phones can cause isolation, distraction, obsession, low self-esteem, excessive comparison, FOMO (fear of missing out), the feeling of not being good enough and physical effects like headaches, eyesight problems and bad posture. “Sometimes when I’m on my phone too much I get a headache,” said sophomore Gabe Ilenda. This is just one example of a harmful result of screen time. 

Many people will say that depression and anxiety are genetic issues, results from trauma, illnesses caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. They may be completely right, but the bottom line is that cell phone use isn’t helping the issue. In most cases, screen time is only hurting our youth.   

There is still no definite answer on the causes of depression and anxiety. Scientists are trying to determine whether cell phone usage can be directly linked to these conditions. Researchers are hesitant to say definitely that the two are in correlation. However, the numbers seem to speak for themselves.