Seriously ? Smartphone data ‘could help diagnose depression’

Smartphones could provide a handy way of telling when people are depressed, according to researchers.

Tracking the number of minutes a phone is used, and its location, can provide clues about the user’s state of mind, a study suggests.

The more time someone spends on his or her phone, the greater the chance they are depressed, say the scientists. T he average daily usage for depressed individuals was found to be around 68 minutes, compared with 17 minutes for happier souls.

People who spend most of their time at home or in fewer locations – as measured by GPS tracking via their phone – are also more likely to show signs of depression, it is claimed.

Using mobile phone data, the US team from Northwestern University was able to identify people with depressive symptoms with 87% accuracy.

Lead researcher Professor David Mohr, director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said: “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 behaviour related to depression. And we’re detecting it passively.

“Phones can provide data unobtrusively and with no effort on the part of the user.”

Smartphones could in future be used to monitor people at risk of depression, enabling health professionals to provide help more quickly when necessary, said the scientists.

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