FIGURES show that more people now own a phone than those who don’t, a massive transformation from 20 or so years ago, when only the truly wealthy or important owned such a device.

We are now more connected than ever, and a smartphone has a multitude of uses other than verbal communication, including holding your diary, allowing surfing of the internet as well as the playing of games.

However, with smartphone addiction now a recognised illness, and some individuals checking their mobile device a whopping 150 times a day, has the desire to be permanently updated gone too far?

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Smartphones have to some extent replaced face to face interaction.

It has become the norm to place your smart phone by your cutlery when eating a meal, even if this is in a public setting with company.

People now feel comfortable to check their phones in a variety of situations that others might frown upon, which surprisingly include during a funeral service and even immediately after sex.

Polls demonstrate that a certain group would rather be denied clean water for a shower rather than access to the internet.

And although these might sound like amusing eccentricities, is this technology actually causing mental health issues?

RECENT research led by Dr Hyung Suk Seo, at the Korea University, Seoul, suggests this may be the case.

His team reviewed 19 teenagers with diagnosed smartphone addiction and compared them with the same number of youths without the problem.

Using brain scanning techniques also employed in the investigation of conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, they found an imbalance in two chemicals, gaba amino butyric acid (GABA) and glutamate-glutamine (GIx).

This imbalance has been linked with mood disorders including depression and anxiety, and it is notable that those study participants with diagnosed smartphone addiction had significantly higher scores on tools used to evaluate these mental health conditions.

Thankfully, the research also demonstrated that after sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy, this chemical imbalance was corrected, and hence this addiction can be treated.

So what can we do to address this? Although most adults older than 35 can remember a time before everyone had a mobile telephone, most under the age of 20 sadly cannot.

Children are great observers of parental behaviour, and if you are constantly on your smartphone, it is likely that your child will pick up the same bad habit.

While mobile technology undoubtedly has a very important place in today’s society, it cannot and must not replace face to face human interaction.

Early emotional development and the understanding of behavioural norms rely on that smile, touch and words of encouragement, something that a mobile phone cannot deliver.

Current advice is that you try to limit both your child’s as well as your own time spent on such internet devices.

Try to not have them at the dinner table where this may hinder actual conversation, and avoid checking your phone last thing before bed, which can interfere with your ability to wind down.