Ask the counsellor | Dr Anthony Perrone

Can you tell me if smartphones are harmful?

The debate on whether or not mobile/cell/smartphones are good or bad for you, from a mental health perspective, will no doubt be ongoing for some time.

In fact, in the end, it will all boil down to personal beliefs and how much one believes the endless sea of reports for and against their use. However, there are some interesting statistics that may alter your thoughts especially if you are a parent and have children who are basically born with a smartphone in their hands from day one. Some may even call smartphones an appendage to one’s anatomy. 

A global consumer survey by Deloitte in 2017 of more than 51,000 respondents across 33 countries of which 2000 findings, from people aged 18-75, were from Australia revealed, surprisingly, that Australia was one of the global leaders of smartphone adaptation as 88 per cent of us own one. 

Using the word appendage should not be taken so lightly as over one-third of users will check their smartphones within five minutes of waking up in the morning. Also, say goodbye to the old-fashioned sitting around the dinner table and having a catch up, as 70 per cent of all users will be using their smartphones during mealtimes.

The repercussions can be significant as there are studies that show overuse can contribute to poor posture, decrease in eyesight, hearing as well as being a distraction while driving. 

A 2016 study published in Computers in Human Behaviour, titled ‘Fear of Missing out’, surveyed a sample size of 308 university students, in assessing their mental health, their fear of missing out was found to be more likely due to overuse of their smartphones. In turn, those who were found to overuse their smartphones also were more likely to be more prone to depression and anxiety. Smartphone use was thereby the cause of users doing less pleasurable activities, they were more disruptive to social activities and reduced behavioural activation, which would then subsequently lead to depression.

In the journal of Frontiers in Psychiatry, ‘Cell-Phone Addiction’, the article references that these devices can lead to losing interest in other activities, feeling irritable, becoming uneasy if you are separated from your phone, feelings of anxiety or loneliness. These findings by researchers also pointed out that adolescents and women may be the most susceptible to this behavioural addiction. The research was so compelling that it earned an entry in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) 5th edition.

Roy Morgan Research, who conducted a study in 2016, found that 94 per cent of Australian teens aged 14-17 had a smartphone. If as adults, parents/guardians we are saying to our children things like, ‘can you please put that phone down for five minutes’ or ‘please do not use your phone at the dinner table’, then we should not get angry with them as 78 per cent of you are paying or have paid for that smartphone.

Obviously, there are many pros to the use of smartphones but from a mental health perspective, as a society, you be the judge as there again is plenty of information out there for you to decide. Perhaps you may use your smartphone to conduct your research?

Dr Anthony Perrone is college counsellor at Trinity Anglican College. The views expressed in this column are Dr Perrone's and not necessarily those of Trinity Anglican College. Got a question for the counsellor? Email: kate.benson@fairfaxmedia.com.au