Study shows higher scores for depression the more youths call and text one another
By Denise Gellene
Los Angeles Times
The teen obsession with yakking, text messaging and ring tone swapping on their cell phones might be a sign of unhappiness and anxiety, according to a new medical study.
A survey of 575 high school students in South Korea found that the top third of users -- those who used their phones more than 90 times a day -- often did so because they were unhappy or bored. They scored significantly higher on tests measuring depression and anxiety compared with students who used their phones 70 times daily.
The study, presented Tuesday at an American Psychiatric Association meeting in Toronto, was among the first to explore the emotional significance of teens' cell phone habits.
Two of every five youths in the U.S. from ages 8 to 18 own a cell phone, a recent survey showed. Those in Grades 7-12 spend an average of an hour a day on their phones.
Earlier studies involving college students have suggested a link between heavy cell phone use and depression. Other research has shown that students incorporate cell phones into their personal identities.
Dr. Jee Hyan Ha, lead author of the latest report, said heavy cell phone users in his study weren't clinically depressed. Rather, Ha said, they probably suffered from serious teen angst.
"They are trying to make themselves feel better by reaching out to others," he said.
Ha, a psychiatrist at Yongin Mental Hospital in South Korea, surveyed students attending a technical high school in that country. Most were boys, and their average age was 15. Although cell phone use in South Korea is higher than in the U.S., Ha said he believed the findings applied to American teens.
The heaviest users were on their phones on average about every 10 minutes. The majority of their usage was in text messages. They continually checked for messages and often became irritated when people didn't call right back.
Students in the highest third of users scored significantly worse on scales measuring depression, anxiety and the ability to express emotion, compared with the bottom third.
Dr. Mark DeAntonio, a clinical professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at UCLA, said it was difficult to assess the study because its statistical measures were not widely used in the U.S.
However, he said the general point of the study was worth noting. For anxious teens, text messaging can become a substitute for face-to-face communication, DeAntonio said.