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'Mobile addict' population increasing; relationship quality potentially decreasing

Published: Sunday, May 4 2014 8:05 a.m. MDT

“I have younger clients acknowledging that they … don’t know how to connect on a deeper or more personal level because they’re used to doing it superficially through social media or texting, etc.,” she said. “It’s very hard to disconnect from that and connect with people on a more personal level.”

Cellphone or other technology addiction isn’t in the fifth and current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but it’s similar to other behavioral addictions, and Mountain didn’t rule out the possibility of it eventually being added.

Mountain said families aren’t connecting as much because members are all on their devices at the dinner table, for example. She said people aren’t chatting at airports or other places, so screens are leading to more alienation.

“It can be anything — substances, gambling, what have you. Anything that distracts you from what you need to be focusing on or interferes with your relationships or your functioning in life is problematic,” Mountain said.

Besides leading to a decrease in social skills, cellphones can distract people from dealing with real issues and emotions. It can also worsen mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, she said.

Mountain recently started working with a client who says she’s addicted to Facebook to the point that it’s getting in the way of other things she wants to be doing in her life.

Digital detox

One of the best things to do is set healthy limits and boundaries for cellphone use and stick to them, Mountain said. Families and individuals can even set aside a screen-free day of the week, turn off notifications, avoid charging phones where they sleep and put phones away while with others.

“I think when it’s extreme and it’s used as a substitute for more authentic, personal relationships, that is a problem," she said. "I think there has to be a balance because we need personal, face-to-face contact with people, too. One of the biggest factors we need for happiness is the amount and quality of personal relationships we have.”

Mountain said it’s important to be mindful and live in the moment. Instead of distracting oneself by pulling out a device while waiting somewhere, she suggests breathing, noticing physical and emotional feelings, and paying attention to surroundings.

“I think all of us need to be aware of how technology might be interfering with our relationships or with other things we want or need to be focusing on in our lives,” Mountain said. “I think it’s an issue for all of us to be aware of, and I think it affects a lot of people.”

Email: madbrown@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Madeleine6

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