Friday, 18 May 2018 11:28

Smartphone apps used to track mental health disorders


Researchers at Flinders University claim they have found that wearable technology, such as smart watches, and also smartphone apps, could help improve the treatment of mental health disorders by increasing the chances of early detection.

In a statement, the University said these devices could be used to help clinicians identify early warning signs of common mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety and stress and monitor treatment success.

For example, smart watches, which are used to track physical activity or simply worn as a fashion statement, could provide real-time indicators of how someone was functioning, which, in turn, could identify worsening mental health.

The study, led by Dr Alissa Knight and Flinders Associate Professor Niranjan Bidargaddi, was sponsored by Fitbit and looked at 43 young adults.

“This study shows there is scope to incorporate wearable technology and smartphone apps into mental healthcare, providing an opportunity for early intervention by clinicians at little to no cost," said Dr Knight.

“Watches and tracking apps are unique in that they can provide data on a person’s daily behaviour and mental state in real-time. This study tested whether smart technology can also provide updates about someone’s mental health, while also allowing users to track their own well-being if they choose to do so.”

Results from the study showed that disruptions in routine physical activity over an extended period might be a reliable indicator of changes in an individual's mental condition.

The subjects had all previously reported suffering moderate psychological distress and their physical activity was then monitored over eight months using smart watches and phone apps to determine if their mental condition correlated with changes in physical activity.

“Traditionally it has been difficult to get an update on someone's mental health in between clinical sessions, but our study found people are generally happy to share their personal data in real-time when it's tracked by wearable technology,” Dr Knight said.

She said that while the study showed wearable technology could be used to monitor changes in mental health, the next step was further research into what devices and apps were most effective.

“These devices could be used as a resource to empower patients self management of their mental health, and improve clinical treatment, however more research is required to determine a standard tracking system for symptoms," Dr Knight said.

“Improved location data would allow us to understand how often sufferers leave their house in a certain number of days or whether they are spending more time at the gym.”

The study was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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