If we leave the house without our phone, most of us feel a void, a disconnect from reality.

London - We all know someone who can’t stop looking at their cellphone.

It's an annoying habit, but it could also be a sign that they are depressed. In future, apps or programs that track usage could be used to spot those at risk of depression and ensure they get help.

A US study asked 28 adults to fill in a detailed questionnaire used to diagnose depression. They also agreed to have software installed on their phones to track their location every five minutes for two weeks and log how much the phone was used.

Analysis showed those identified as being depressed via the questionnaire used their phones for longer. Their average daily usage was 68 minutes, compared to just 17 minutes for the happier sorts.

Researcher David Mohr, of Northwestern University in Chicago, said: “People are likely, when on their phones, to avoid thinking about things that are troubling, painful feelings or difficult relationships. It’s an avoidance behaviour we see in depression.”

Those who spent more time at home were also more likely to be depressed, the Journal of Medical Internet Research reports.

This “reflects the loss of motivation seen in depression”, said Dr Mohr.

He added that excessive phone use also echoes compulsive behaviour, which is also seen in depression.

Overall, the data from the app allowed depression to be spotted with 87 percent accuracy.

Daily Mail