New research revealed that smartphones may be able to detect depression using tracking data and geographical locations. The study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, found that participants who were depressed used their phones an average of 68 minutes a day as compared to those who were not depressed, who spent an average of 17 minutes on the phone. The study was used as testing for a new app called Purple Robot.
Researchers in the study used GPS tracking and other data to examine a group of 28 people, 20 of which were female and eight were male. These participants were studied over a two-week period. At the beginning of the study, the participants completed a questionnaire that measured depression, called the PHQ-9. Fourteen of the participants in the group showed no signs of depression, and the remaining half of the participants showed mild to severe signs of depression.
David Mohr, director for the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University in the Feinberg School of Medicine and senior author of the study, told Fox News, “People get tired very quickly of entering information in [apps]. There are so many sensors available in Smartphones; harnessing them could passively detect the state we’re interested in.”
Mohr and his colleagues used 12 variables when correlating algorithms for the subjects’ PHQ-9 test results. They found that some of these factors corresponded heavily with depression. They also proposed using a phone’s sensors to detect symptoms to potentially lead to more prompt and effective care of mental health symptoms.
Sohrob Saeb, a computer scientist in preventive medicine in the Feinburg School of Medicine and one of the developers of Purple Robot noted in the Fox News interview, “One of the most significant variables was actually how subjects spent time in different locations they were visiting- spending most of their time in still locations or spreading time across different locations.” Saeb added that this variable was closely related to depression and that people with more severe symptoms of depression appear to spend the majority of their time “in fewer locations.”
Another variable analyzed was the variation in subjects’ daily schedule. The study results revealed that those who practiced a less structured daily schedules demonstrated a higher risk for depression.
The smartphone usage data did coincide with previous research on depression, Mohr claims. Those patients with mental illnesses generally have disruptive sleeping patterns, eating, and daily routines. The repeated use of smartphones could indicate that they feel the need to distract themselves from their own emotional issues and other personal problems. Additionally, when people suffer from depression, they tend to spend more of their time in fewer places.
Researchers are looking to conduct further trials analyzing this relationship. “We suspect with a finer-gain understanding of behavior on phones, we will get stronger predictions,” Mohr states.
According to data collected in the study, researchers were able to identify people demonstrating symptoms of depression with 87 percent accuracy.
Researchers believe that the use of this smartphone sensor data can potentially have great benefits for public health. Estimates show that only 30 percent of people with depression receive treatment, says Mohr. The use of this sensor technology could also be used to help mental health providers reinforce good behavior in the future.
Mohr further added that while many companies are using this tracking data and sensor technology, he and his colleagues are “trying to use them to improve the quality of people’s lives.”
According to the National Institute on Mental Health, approximately 18.9 million Americans suffer from depressive disorders. The Anxiety Treatment Helpline is committed to helping those struggling with mental illnesses find effective means of mental health treatment. If you know someone who is struggling with a mental illness and is in need of treatment, please do not hesitate to call. You may reach us at 866-971-7951. Our treatment specialists will assist you in finding the right mental health treatment program for you.