There is a marked difference in usage between people who are depressed and those who are not with people who had been diagnosed with depression spending four time longer on their smartphones each day.
The researchers at Northwestern University near Chicago used a computer programme called Purple Robot. It kept track over two weeks of the mobile phone use (excluding phone calls) of 40 people, 14 of whom had been diagnosed with depression.
The study measured how long they spent at home, how many other places they had visited and how long their phones were active.
Those with depression used their phones used their phones an average of 68 minutes a day compared with only 17 minutes for those without the condition.
The programme was able to identify those who had been diagnosed as having depression with 87% accuracy. Researchers also thought it could also indicate how severe it was.
Psychologists have thought that excessive use of mobile phones and stressing about technology could be linked to depression but have relied on self-reporting rather than objective measures such as the Purple Robot programme (developed by computer scientist Sohrob Saeb).
Previous research has shown how much we are beginning to depend on our smart phones and how obsessed we can become.
Stephen Schueller, professor in preventatve medicine at the university, said many people used their phones to try to rid themselves of negative emotions such as boredom or anxiety.
“Phones are excellent sources of distraction. I imagine that people are probably not using their phones to reach out and call people when they’re depressed”
The research has been published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research and more research is planned to see if there are specific behaviours that can predict symptoms and also how exactly depressed people use their phones (the research didn’t differentiate between texting, e-mails and other uses).
Dr Saeb also wants to investigate if it’s possible to ease some aspects of depression by encouraging people with depression to use their phone differently. “We will see if we can reduce symptoms of depression by encouraging people to visit more locations throughout the day, have a more regular routine, sped more time in a variety of places, or reduce phone use“