Your Phone Knows if You're Depressed
July 21, 2015 7:08 AM   Subscribe

A new study from Northwestern University examined the potential link between cell phone use and depression. "The study found a depressed person’s average daily phone usage clocked in at 68 mins, whereas non-depressed individual’s came in at 17 mins." source

Northwestern is also looking into using cell phones to treat depression.
posted by schnee (44 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well then everyone I know is depressed, because only 17 minutes?!!?
posted by maryr at 7:19 AM on July 21, 2015 [20 favorites]


Um, aren't people who are physically distant from friends, family, and support networks more likely to talk to them on the phone? At length?

Aren't people who are away from loved ones more likely to be depressed?
posted by leotrotsky at 7:19 AM on July 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


Hearthstone players are one sad bunch.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:21 AM on July 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


Well then everyone I know is depressed, because only 17 minutes?!!?

I use my cell phone for, at most, 2-3 minutes a day.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:21 AM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Your Phone Knows if You're DepressedHow Much You've Used Your Phone
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:22 AM on July 21, 2015 [22 favorites]


The study found a depressed person’s average daily phone usage clocked in at 68 mins, whereas non-depressed individual’s came in at 17 mins.

Huh? I almost never actually talk on my cell phone (and only occasionally text), and I can assure you my therapist considers me holyshitdudeyouarescaryhelladepressed.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:24 AM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


40 participants in the study, of which 28 had enough data to be analyzed. 2 week study. Self-reported depression questionnaire. Android only (and thus smartphone only.)
posted by smackfu at 7:26 AM on July 21, 2015 [18 favorites]


After you receive your cell phone bill for an hour a day of usage over the past month, you're bound to be depressed. And, at least in Canada, impoverished.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:26 AM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'd be embarrassed to admit to how much time I spend on my phone each day (never use it as an actual phone though), and I am currently the least depressed I have been in my adult life.
posted by schnee at 7:27 AM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


It didn't seem like the data on "use" was from telephone calls and texts only--if they're including all the times I, for instance, will go through the Facebook-Instagram-Twitter-Tumblr-email circuit, then spend 5+ minutes rearranging the toys on my Neko Atsume yard, then repeat until I'm sleepy enough to go to bed...I can see why they'd be concerned.
posted by witchen at 7:27 AM on July 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


This study includes data from 28 people.

Cited By (0) Tweetations (369)

Everyone knows it's the Tweetations what get the Nobels
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:28 AM on July 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


Huh? I almost never actually talk on my cell phone (and only occasionally text), and I can assure you my therapist considers me holyshitdudeyouarescaryhelladepressed.

Okay, you are one person. The fact that you don't fit the average found by the study is okay. Averages don't mean that everybody is average.

(Also the study collected reliable data from only 28 participants, so everybody take everything with a healthy grain of salt - this is just poking around into habits and forming hypothesis for future follow-up, not making any great conclusions about depression and phone use. In fact, their main conclusion conclusion is:

that phone sensors offer numerous clinical opportunities, including continuous monitoring of at-risk populations with little patient burden and interventions that can provide just-in-time outreach.)
posted by entropone at 7:30 AM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Makes perfect sense to me. Depressed people also spend more time watching TV and fucking around on the internet. It's not that phone use CAUSES depression, it's the other way around.

And yeah, this is not about using the phone as a phone, it's about using the phone for anything at all. Phone usage data were gathered by looking at the periods of time when the phone screen was on (Figure 2). Given that the phone screen would go on when receiving notifications from apps such as text messages, we eliminated brief screen-on events not initiated by the participant that had durations of less than 30 seconds.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:35 AM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Good thing I have an iPad!
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:40 AM on July 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


Cell phones can make telephone calls? Who knew?
posted by monotreme at 7:42 AM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Cell phones can make telephone calls? Who knew?

"Hey buddy, I gotta tell you about this great dick pic I just took!"
posted by entropone at 7:43 AM on July 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


My surprise was based on the idea of smart phones - for example, I tend to spend a good chunk of time when I get home from work reading Twitter and email and looking pictures I took and Pinterest etc etc on the couch while I chat with my roommate who is doing pretty much the same thing. I've been depressed in the past. This is not a depressed, sucked into the phone, unable to motivate myself to do anything consumption of passive media. This is a social routine to round out my day.
posted by maryr at 7:44 AM on July 21, 2015


I think if you studied it, you'd find that depressed people write 80% of MeFi's content.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:46 AM on July 21, 2015 [19 favorites]


At any rate, thank you for pointing out the small study size, East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94.
posted by maryr at 7:47 AM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


When I'm super depressed (when going through a major depressive episode on top of everyday dysthymia) I don't have the motivation to look at stuff or talk on my phone. Because other stuff like taking the dogs out takes up all my energy when I'm super depressed. On normal days (dysthymia only) then I enjoy looking at fancy moving pictures of kitties.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 8:08 AM on July 21, 2015


Tweets work faster than citations, so it's not surprising that this article has more tweets than citations at this point. It just came out. And not all research is Nobel-worthy, nor should it be. I was recently at a workshop where everyone kept talking about how we scientists were going to Change The World! "You're changing the world! The next Einstein could be here! He probably IS here! OMG, are you changing the world? If not, what are you doing in science? You need to change the world!"

No. Just, no. Science - well, good science - is basically the opposite of all that. It's not about changing the world in a profound way. Sure, there are Einsteins. But there are - and need to be - countless Jane and Jim Smiths in science. Science is incremental. It's about asking small questions that you answer with data from 28 people, and then you have a small answer that you use to create another, slightly larger question with a larger study with a bigger sample. And on and on and on.

Standing on the shoulders of giants. That is science.

In my opinion, this article really shows that the Purple Robot technology is viable for this type of research, which should lead to similar studies with larger and more robust samples. As they say, their primary finding is: "The potential to use commonly available mobile phone sensor data, including GPS and phone usage, to identify depressive symptom severity."

Their sampling methods aren't great - Craigslist ads are going to get you a particular demographic, a limitation that I don't see addressed in the article (unfortunately). But this is a good step towards better understanding how everyday activities and markers that can be easily tracked can work as indicators of health. No one is saying: "If you use your phone more, you're probably more depressed!" This article says, "Hey, there is data out there that can be easily collected - 'Phones fit into the fabric of our lives' - and preliminary analysis suggests that we should keep studying what this data can tell us about the people carrying said phones in order to make their lives better. What we found here looks promising. Isn't this interesting?" This is science.
posted by sockermom at 8:09 AM on July 21, 2015 [15 favorites]


Considering I can't get off the phone with my overbearing parental unit at anything less than 50 minutes, one could make the case (for me) that long phone usage is in fact, the cause of depression.
posted by Debaser626 at 8:12 AM on July 21, 2015


I know that when I get into a bad depression I totally retreat to the escapism of screen time. Whether it's Twitter on my phone, Minecraft on my iPad, or a Netflix binge (hello Rory and Lorelai, what have you been up to since the last time I spent all day in bed?) I know I need to take care of my mental health when I find myself literally getting low battery warnings on my devices.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:13 AM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


By this logic, it is Twitter that knows best when I'm depressed.
posted by JHarris at 8:14 AM on July 21, 2015


I don't know anyone of any age who spends 68 minutes per day talking on the phone unless they are a receptionist. Who are these people.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:22 AM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't resent the study, I resent media portraying the study as saying anything about human behavior beyond "we did this little study, and here is what we found, but further research is required".
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:23 AM on July 21, 2015


No one is saying: "If you use your phone more, you're probably more depressed!"

Except the press release from the school. I bet researches hate whoever writes these.
The more time you spend using your phone, the more likely you are depressed.
posted by smackfu at 8:24 AM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I bet researches hate whoever writes these.

Researchers are weirdly reluctant to work with communications departments, even when those departments ask them things like "how can we explain your findings to a mainstream audience" and "what media outlets should we be targeting" and "what aspect of your research should we focus on in the press release". And when you get nothing but radio silence from the researchers, you end up with press releases that sometimes make mistakes about the central project, because every attempt to get input that would make it better was rebuffed.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:36 AM on July 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Hearthstone players are one sad bunch.
posted by Drinky Die


God damnit, that was my first thought... West Wing on the TV and Hearthstone on my phone.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:45 AM on July 21, 2015


"Phone usage data were gathered by looking at the periods of time when the phone screen was on (Figure 2). Given that the phone screen would go on when receiving notifications from apps such as text messages, we eliminated brief screen-on events not initiated by the participant that had durations of less than 30 seconds."

I wonder if they took into account the fact that the phone screen turns off when you hold the phone next to your ear?
posted by I-baLL at 8:59 AM on July 21, 2015


Researchers are weirdly reluctant to work with communications departments

Researchers are generally reluctant to work on anything that takes them away from their research.
posted by maryr at 9:05 AM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wow - first time any of my work has shown up on MetaFilter!

I'm the creator of the Purple Robot software that the researchers used to collect the data for this study (as well as an author on the paper), so if anyone has any questions about the any of this, I'll be happy to answer any questions.

I-baLL: "I wonder if they took into account the fact that the phone screen turns off when you hold the phone next to your ear?"

Yes - this happens via our Device In Use sensor that looks at both whether the screen is off AND whether your are on a phone call (with the screen off).
posted by cjkarr at 9:18 AM on July 21, 2015 [10 favorites]


I'm also the primary developer behind the IntelliCare apps (in the post's final link) if anyone has any questions about those. Each of those apps were developer with a developer and clinician working in tandem.
posted by cjkarr at 9:20 AM on July 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm happy to say I don't own a cell phone.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:15 AM on July 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Dr. Zoidberg has a lot to say about these types of studies.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:56 AM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Researchers are weirdly reluctant to work with communications departments, even when those departments ask them things like "how can we explain your findings to a mainstream audience" and "what media outlets should we be targeting" and "what aspect of your research should we focus on in the press release". And when you get nothing but radio silence from the researchers, you end up with press releases that sometimes make mistakes about the central project, because every attempt to get input that would make it better was rebuffed.

My experience is similar - I've found that a lot of researchers, scientists, and statisticians are, well, firmly entrenched in an intensely precise and specific area of what they're working on and they have a hard time breaking out of that. They have a hard time thinking about their work from the outside - "What does this mean, and what's worth communicating to people who don't know anything about this subject?"

Meanwhile, a bunch of communications people are stuck in a mode of organizational promotion - acting like "the general public" is a body of people that really wants to learn about what XYZ Organization is doing if only the right flier was put into their mail box, or whatever.

And meanwhile, some work environments don't adequately prioritize or make opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration - for communications people to understand the content and for the content people to understand the communications needs, and for the two to work together on projects that have communications value (based on, yes, the science of what information works for whom, and how, and why) and are still scientifically accurate.
posted by entropone at 11:12 AM on July 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


68 minutes? Are they kidding? I spend hours a day on my phone. I'm afraid to ask... how bad am i?
posted by Splunge at 11:36 AM on July 21, 2015


I use my cell phone about once a month (no, really), I must be experiencing satori on a daily basis. Or maybe it's just the prozac talking.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:46 PM on July 21, 2015


I couldn't make this out from the link but are we talking about talking on a cell phone or just using it? (to surf the web, play games, email, etc.)
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:35 PM on July 21, 2015


They measured phone usage as the amount of screen time over 30s per instance (to exclude notifications from texts etc).

Study seems pretty fishy to me for the single reason that I know maybe 3 people who own a smart phone who would have their screen time under an hour a day. It's possible that my friends are outliers, but I think the people in the study are, instead.
posted by randomnity at 4:58 PM on July 21, 2015


...Or more likely, they consciously or subconsciously change their behavior because they know it's being monitored, and would be ashamed for anyone to realize the extent of their metafilter (etc) addiction. And maybe the people with depression don't have enough energy to worry about that?
posted by randomnity at 5:02 PM on July 21, 2015


Depressed?

Or bitter and curmudgeonly?

"Get off my phone, you dang kids!"
posted by jefflowrey at 5:11 PM on July 21, 2015


The researchers don't solely, or even mostly, mean talking:

"we should note that phone usage in this context was defined as any interaction with the phone, and we were not able to isolate the specific types of interactions (eg, using apps, texting). Thus, it is difficult to determine which specific behaviors were related to symptom severity."[emphasis mine]
posted by pickles_have_souls at 6:14 PM on July 21, 2015


I can't stop laughing. What was the age of this sample group? I'd like to think my age group (20-somethings) are both chronically depressed and use their smartphones for everything. BUT IT'S ALL OF OUR FAULT (obviously has nothing to do with the economy).
posted by yueliang at 1:10 PM on July 22, 2015


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