Your #smartphone can #diagnose #depression

Worried if that persistent sadness is something more serious? Your smartphone may have a diagnosis.

Your-smartphone-can-diagnose-depressionFor those battling depression, negativity is sometimes best repressed. Wearing one’s best face might take some courage, but brushing despair under the carpet could have its own side effects.Seeking therapy is taboo for some.For others, it is too absolute an admission. Technology, though, is again claiming to have come to the rescue. Scientists have found that people with depression can now be diagnosed by their smartphone behavior.

Research at Northwestern University in Illinois, US, studied 28 people, half with depression. It claimed 87 per cent success in diagnosis and in identifying those with depressive symptoms. The findings come as a revelation, but they are also a warning of sorts. People suffering depression, the research found, used their phones four times more than those who were free of the illness.

GPS tracking on the phones revealed that depressed people were likely to visit fewer physical locations. They spent more time at home and were less likely to have a regular routine.Those depressed spent an average of 68 minutes a day staring at their smartphones or similar devices.

Director of the Centre for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, David Mohr, believes that depressed people were turning to their phones to perhaps “avoid thinking about things that are troubling them.” The senior author of the study goes on to add, “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.We now have an objective measure of behavior related to depression.”

The research did at times seem to rely on assumptions. For instance, when people are depressed, they tend to withdraw and don’t have the motivation or energy to go out and do things. But Mohr cited these symptoms as proof: “The data showing depressed people tended not to go many places reflects the loss of motivation seen in depression.” The study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, analyzed the GPS locations and phone usage for 20 women and eight men with an average age of 29 over two weeks. The sensor tracked GPS locations every five minutes.

Participants were expected to complete a standardized questionnaire about symptoms used to diagnose depression such as sadness, loss of pleasure, hopelessness, disturbances in sleep and appetite, and difficulty concentrating. Research also found that smartphone data was more reliable in detecting depression than daily questions participants answered about how sad they were feeling on a scale of 1 to 10, which could be rehearsed.

Postdoctoral fellow and computer scientist Sohrob Saeb developed algorithms using the GPS and phone usage data collected from the phone, and correlated these with the subjects’ depression test results said: “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.” An extension of your personality until yesterday, the smartphone, it seems, can now also an extension of the psyche.


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