Background: Smartphone use has been shown to have effects on psychological health outcomes. There is evidence that the psychological effects of smartphones on young people are significant. It is associated with anxiety, depression, and psychological distress in various populations. The tendency to spend cumulatively long durations exposed to smartphones is an emerging phenomenon among university undergraduates. This study aimed at determining the relationship between smartphone use and psychological distress in university undergraduates.
Methods: Data for this cross-sectional study were collected from 3,325 undergraduates of the University of Ilorin, Nigeria in September 2021 using a Sociodemographic proforma, Smartphone Addiction Scale-Short version, and psychological distress was measured using the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ12). Data were analyzed using SPSS 23.
Results: The mean age of respondents was 21.3+2.59 years, and 1835 (55.2%) of them were females. In addition, 3305 (99.4%) owned smartphones, and 720 (21.7%) had more than one smartphone. Psychological distress was present in 1097 smartphone users (33.2%). The level of study (P=0.002), presence of problematic smartphone use (PSU, P<0.001), total time spent on the phone per day (P=0.014), and the time spent on social media per day (P<0.001), as well as leaving the phone data on all day (P=0.001) and engaging in overnight calls or social media chats (P<0.026), Facebook (P=0.001), WeChat (P=0.001), and Snapchat (P=0.001), were significantly associated with psychological distress. Independent predictors of psychological distress were being in year 5 (OR=0.548, P=0.008), presence of PSU (OR=1.586, P<0.001), switching on phone data throughout the day (OR=1.388, P<0.001), and use of WeChat (OR=1.451, P<0.027) and Facebook (OR=0.703, P<0.001).
Conclusion: Our findings revealed that important smartphone-related indices such as PSU, switching on phone data access all day, and WeChat were predictive of increased levels of psychological distress. Structured counselling about the productive use of smartphones should be administered in the early years of study for university undergraduates.