Using Smartphones Too Much Can Make You Depressed


Research has found that tracking the number of minutes an individual uses their phone and their daily geographical locations can help detect whether they are depressed.

The small study, carried out by Northwestern Medicine, used the smartphone sensor data of 28 individuals over a period two weeks, tracking their GPS locations every five minutes.

Based on this phone sensor data, Northwestern scientists were able to identify people with depressive symptoms with 87% accuracy.

Of the participants, 14 showed no signs of depression, whilst the remaining 14 had symptoms ranging from “mild” to “severe”.

According to its lead author Sohrob Saeb, the aim of the research was to “passively detect depression and different levels of emotional states related to depression”, suggesting that the information could be used as a way of monitoring people who are at risk of depression.

Senior author and director of the Center for Behavioural Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, David Mohr said: “The significance of this is we can detect if a person has depressive symptoms and the severity of those symptoms without asking them any questions.

“We now have an objective measure of behaviour related to depression. And we’re detecting it passively. Phones can provide data unobtrusively and with no effort on the part of the user.”

Published in July, the study found that the smartphone data was more reliable in identifying depression than daily questions answered by participant about how sad they were feeling on a scale of 1 to 10.

It was funded by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health.