The term nomophobia - "no mobile" phobia - was coined in 2008 by British researchers, and now a U.K. survey shows that more than half of the population suffer from this condition. A 2012 survey by Internet security and mobile technology firm SecurEnvoy shows that two-thirds of the population, 66 percent of the 1,000 survey respondents, experience nomophobia, up 13 percent from the first study in 2008. But having the condition may not necessarily warrant medical attention. "While the fact that so many people say they experience real fear just thinking about losing their mobile phone is startling, it doesn't necessarily mean that every one of those of 66 percent of respondents need treatment," says Dr. Elizabeth Waterman, an addiction and recovery expert with Morningside Recovery Center in Newport Beach, Calif. Nomophobia becomes a problem when it causes trouble in a relationship, such as someone not nurturing the relationship because they are always on their phone, says Waterman. "It also becomes a problem if you're getting in trouble at work or at school because you're looking at non-work and non-school messages or material on your phone," she says. (See: " The 411 on cellphone tickets.") Dr. Brian Johnson, director of addiction psychiatry at SUNY Upstate Medical school in Syracuse, N.Y., says, "Addiction is a serious thing, and it's important not to trivialize it the way some people do when they say they are 'addicted' to a TV show or to chocolate. By definition, addiction occurs when someone experiences repeated harm from 'x' or whatever it is they are addicted to, which is usually something enjoyable." Johnson says that nomophobia for some people could be part of an anxiety disorder, but he says it's hard to identify this as a phobia or an addiction because the harm caused by overusing a cellphone is minor compared to the devastating physical consequences of drug addiction or even the financial ruin associated with a shopping addiction.
Warning signs of nomophobiaWaterman says some of the signs that your nomophobia requires medical attention include:
- High-intensity anxiety or panic over losing your phone.
- Compulsive checking for your phone.
- Using your phone in inappropriate places.
- Missing out on opportunities for face-to-face interaction.
- Become self-aware and monitor the frequency with which you check your phone.
- Commit to putting your phone down and turning it off for a specific amount of time while you focus on other priorities such as your relationships, exercise or meditation.
- If you feel anxious or have an urgent need to check your phone, try using healthy coping skills such as deep breathing, redirecting your attention to the people around you or busying yourself with exercise.
- Ask other people to help you by taking your phone away for specific time periods.
Health insurance coverage for nomophobiaIf you feel that you do have nomophobia and need treatment, will your insurer pay for it? "People don't typically come to us for treatment just because of their addiction to their cellphone," says Waterman. "Usually there's a dual problem such as substance abuse or mental illness coupled with nomophobia. Often nomophobia is part of a generalized anxiety problem. For example, one patient we're working with has post-traumatic stress disorder and a significant fear of losing her phone." Waterman says health insurance companies typically cover treatment for patients with a phobia or anxiety disorder. "Cigna would cover a disorder that's considered a standard accepted diagnosis, based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)," says Julie B. Kessel, M.D., senior medical director for coverage policy for Cigna. "The level of care would be determined by the degree of functional impairment the individual experiences and the level of danger to the individual." Nomophobia is not yet included in the DSM. Internet use disorder is also not yet included, but is on the list of mental conditions requiring further study. (See: " Infographic: Is your internet addiction covered?")