Your Phone May Now Be Able To Sense When You’re Depressed


We spend a lot of time with our phones. From the time we wake up until we go to bed our smartphones are by our side waiting for us to use them to carry out any number of tasks, whether it’s texting a significant other, looking up a dinner recipe, or setting the alarm for work. We spend so much time with our phones it almost makes sense they’ve essentially become man’s new best friend. And this new best friend is so keen on us, they may now be able to tell when we’re depressed according to a new study.

Conducted by Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, researchers were able to predict with 86 percent accuracy whether or not the individual was depressed by analyzing GPS and usage sensors to detect behavioral markers for depression.

The study, led by Dr. David C. Mohr, director of Northwestern’s Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies, chose 40 individuals from Craigslist; 28 of them providing enough sufficient data to analyze after two weeks. The participants used a sensor data acquisition app, called the “Purple Robot” by researchers. The app tracked behaviors linked to depression, time spent in certain locations, and how often the participant engaged with their phone.

“The significance of this is we can detect if a person has depressive symptoms and the severity of those symptoms without asking them any questions,” Mohr told The Daily Beast. With this kind of technology Mohr says we could make measuring mental health a simpler process and forego the complicated paperwork.

While the research provides an interesting look at how we may handle mental health in the future, the study isn’t without its flaws. The way participants were feeling were self-reported, and the levels of depression may have been exaggerated or underestimated. The app also didn’t take into account important factors about a participant, like if they were experiencing a chronic illness. Ultimately, Mohr decided there weren’t enough participants in the study to draw enough data for a conclusion.

“Regardless of these shortcomings, the ability to passively detect behavioral patterns opens up the possibility of a new generation of behavioral intervention technologies,” he said.

Hmm…it looks like instead of Googling symptoms on Web MD we may be able to download a mental health version of My Fitness Pal app. Welcome to the future, I guess.

(via The Daily Beast)