Can Your Smartphone Really Detect Your Depression? Here’s What Research Says..

A large number of people have switched to smartphones all over the world, and it seems like they are using their smartphones very ‘smartly’. They are using them to monitor their health, tracking all from the calories they consume per day, to everyday step counts, to quality of sleep they are taking.

Here’s a small study from Northwestern University which proposes that smartphone usage data can now be used to detect depression.

The study discovered that there is some association between depression and the amount of time a person exhibits using a smartphone, including the number of locations, the users are visiting on an assigned day (as measured by GPS tracking). The results were spotted today in the ‘Journal of Medical Internet Research’.

“Depression has long been diagnosed and evaluated primarily based on patient reports of symptoms,” said David Mohr who is the senior study author.

Also, according to CBS news, the director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said, “Unlike many other medical problems where there are biomarkers, objective data has not been available. I think what we’re seeing here is that behavior — people’s movement through geographic space or phone usage — can potentially serve as objective data that can inform evaluation of depression.”

Scientists examined 28 men and women aged 19 to 58 and recorded their addiction level of using their mobile phone for a two-week period via an app. The tracking was done passively hence, users did not have to insert any piece of information themselves. Participants were asked to fill out a standardized questionnaire measuring depression, before the tracking commenced.

According to the outcomes, the greater the time spent by someone using smartphones, the more depressed they were likely to be. The average daily mobile use for depressed participants added up to approximately 68 minutes, whereas the participants who were non-depressed spent on 17 minutes per day using mobile phones.

Also, the phone’s GPS tracking signaled depression. killing time at home and not going out as much was also linked to depression.

The researchers also concluded that people who did not have a routine, or everyday schedule — leaving the house and going to work at various times everyday– was also associated with depressive symptoms.

“This makes sense clinically,” Mohr said. “When people are depressed they tend to lose motivation to engage in life and they tend to withdraw. We speculate that the relationship between increased phone use — most likely app use, not communication — and higher depression is a reflection of people tending to use the phone to distract themselves from emotional pain or to avoid stressful situations.”

In addition, he explained that these examinations are quite uniform with extensive research revealing that people who suffer from depression tend to have disturbances in other circadian rhythms. “Their sleep becomes less regular, eating habits become less regular, and we think here, mood and loss of motivation may pull people off their of movement.”

The authors examined various significant limitations, including the very small size of the study’s sample and the failure to provide evidence for a cause and effect relationship. It’s not vivid what comes first or how the sequence varies over longer periods. And, they conveyed if you spend a lot of time on your phone doesn’t necessarily mean you are depressed.

But specialists claim that research has its own real-life cons when it comes to analyzing and treatment of depression.

“The study is very preliminary, but it is exciting,” Lee Ritterband, director of the Behavioral Health and Technology Lab at the University of Virginia Health System, told CBS News. “I imagine what the researchers ultimately want to do is create a better and more easily deliverable assessment of how people are doing mental health-wise so that they can then deliver interventions to those folks in a way that reduces the burdens of getting treatments they might otherwise not get.”

Ritterband, whose research usually encompasses on the development of Internet interventions for different behavioral health issues, was not a part of this study.

In Fact, the researchers admitted that although the research still requires more testing on a larger scale, it could still lead to an improved technique for clinicians to aid their patients better eventually.

“Ultimately we see several potential uses,” Mohr said. “One is to monitor people who are at risk, to identify when they are likely to start getting depressed so that they can receive treatment more promptly. Another is that such data may be useful in the context of treatment, to supply information back to treating physicians.”

Mohr also mentioned that this analysis might be useful in creating the next generation of apps for depression“Apps that can sense risk states, positively reinforce behaviors that are likely to improve well-being, and offer timely suggestions when risk states are detected.”

But when it comes to a reality check, or implementation of such programs in a healthcare setting, experts believe that they still may be more time away.

I think technologically we’re not that far off,” Ritterband said. “I think what’s much further off is the policy and politics around it. In the U.S. people have no kind of health insurance reimbursements for these eHealth interventions. That’s starting to happen in other countries — in the UK and Australia, for example. But in the U.S., until we get insurers on board for covering these types of care it will be really hard. If they were to make the decision that this is a low-cost, high-effective, high-value proposition, this could happen very quickly.”

Research in the future pertaining to Northwestern university will highlight whether getting people to alter their habits associated with depression, makes their mood any better or not.

“We will see if we can reduce symptoms of depression by encouraging people to visit more locations throughout the day, have a more regular routine, spend more time in a variety of places or reduce mobile phone use,” Sohrob Saeb, another author of the study, said in a statement.


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