Could your smartphone hold clues for diagnosing and treating Depression?

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The powerful sensors today on your smartphone can do more than simply count steps or calculate distance and show directions (beyond letting you call or text).

Verily Lifesciences ( Google subsidiary) new research shows the potential around the importance of mobile data when it comes to diagnosing and treating depression.

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Verliy has published a study this week that supports the use of smartphones as a means to measure symptoms of depressions. Measuring clinically relevant behavior outside the office visit has always been a major challenge.

The new study suggests that sensors and tasks recorded by your smartphone can provide a low-burden, low-cost, and easily deployable way to capture real-world data from patients that could augment clinical decision making, thereby moving the field of mental health closer to scalable, measurement-based care.

“We set out to understand how novel sensing devices could be used to collect data that would be translated into clinically relevant measures, and we created a compensation-based study that would keep participants engaged and yield significant results to further mental health innovation.”, said Vivian Lee, President, Health platforms, Verily Life sciences.

The 12-week study led by Verily evaluated 384 users in a controlled opt-in environment (313 with self-reported depression and 71 in a non-depressed control group).

The study evaluated 20 smartphone sensor data streams passively along with active surveys and voice dairies. The data examined were:

  • Ambient Audio level
  • Location
  • Inertial measurement units

This data was enriched with other information such as sleep, physical activity, sociability, mobility, affect and mood and compared them against the clinically validated Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) self-survey. 

A classification algorithm looked at the data in order to determine if the participant was depressed.

The research showed that participants who visited many different locations in a given week showed fewer signs of depression.

Analyzing the voice diaries showed that lower sentiment scores – a number showing how negative or positive the content of the voice diary was – were associated with more severe symptoms of depression.

Another interesting finding was that using less emojis in outgoing messages was associated with more symptoms of depression.

By using mobile devices, Verily was able to gather more frequent data points about participants’ activity and well-being. The study ultimately demonstrated how passive and active monitoring together can be used to create potentially actionable depression insights.

The next time when your loved one or a friend stops using emojis in her or his messaging or stops visiting places or stops sharing activity details on Strava, there may be something going on. Reach out and lend a supporting voice!

The Mood App had been deployed by Verily’s partner LivaNova in a randomized controlled trial on using neurostimulation for difficult-to-treat depression and bipolar disorder.

Source: Verily’s Study results on JMIR 


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