Dependence on Smartphones Predicts Later Depression in Adolescents

Smartphone dependency in adolescents predicts loneliness and depression months later, suggests a study published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Researchers conducted their investigation, which involved 346 adolescents between the ages of 17 and 20, to determine links between smartphone use, dependency on smartphones, loneliness, and symptoms of depression. By assessing participants at baseline and again 2.5 to 3 months later, researchers determined that earlier smartphone dependency predicts loneliness and depressive symptoms later.

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“If depression and loneliness lead to smartphone dependency, we could reduce dependency by adjusting people’s mental health,” said Pengfei Zhao, coauthor of the study and a communication master’s student at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “But if smartphone dependency [precedes depression and loneliness], which is what we found, we can reduce smartphone dependency to maintain or improve wellbeing.”

The study also found that loneliness at baseline predicted depression symptoms later, and that smartphone use precedes smartphone dependency.

“Considering the rates of smartphone ownership/use among late adolescents (95%), the association between smartphone use and smartphone dependency, and the deleterious effects of loneliness and depression within this population, health practitioners should communicate with patients and parents about the links between smartphone engagement and psychological well-being,” researchers concluded.

—Jolynn Tumolo


Lapierre MA, Zhao P, Custer BE. Short-term longitudinal relationships between smartphone use/dependency and psychological well-being among late adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2019 August 30;[Epub ahead of print].

Blue A. Which comes first: smartphone dependency or depression? [press release]. Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona; September 30, 2019.

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