Passive tracking of vocal and behavioral indicators of symptoms via a smartphone app can be an effective way to improve depression in a time-sensitive and accurate fashion.
A recent randomized clinical trial compared the use of an app to track indicators with “usual” care for depression, and, although the sample size is small, the results are very promising.
For the 6-month study duration, the application passively collected metadata on smartphone use, including SMS logs, call logs, and geolocation data. Metadata were analyzed against the criteria for depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. The app also tracked social connection, and data about how active each person was. Participants could also leave short audio recordings on the app, which allowed voice analysis and provided an additional measure of depressed mood.1
The app collected the kind of data on you that most of your apps collect. But it used this data to identify whether or not you were depressed. It then shared this information with the participants (through graphs on the app) and with the participants’ care providers. Care providers received training on how to respond to this new information.
The authors concluded that “patients using a mobile monitoring system with clinician access showed significant improvement on depressive symptoms and psychological health compared with patients receiving usual care. “
Apps for Depression in Pregnancy
A similar study from 2017 used a mobile phone app to monitor data from pregnant women at risk of depression, with positive results. In this study, the app would alert care providers when the patient showed worsening mood symptoms, triggering telephone contact with the patient. The outcomes suggested that the participants’ depression improved, and they also felt a greater sense of control over their own ability to manage their own health.2
Mood Mapping and Bipolar
Another study used passive tracking of metadata about typing speed and use of the corrective function on mobile phones to predict mood changes in patients with bipolar. A sudden increase in typing speed and frequency of messaging can alert users to the onset of manic episodes, which a decrease in speed, and in message length can indicate depressive episodes.3
Smartphone applications are still in their infancy, and much research and development remain to be done. We intend to keep using these technologies and monitoring their usefulness as the field grows.
For More Information
- Place S, Blanch-Hartigan D, Smith V, Erb J, Marci CD, Ahern DK. Effect of a Mobile Monitoring System vs Usual Care on Depression Symptoms and Psychological Health: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(1):e1919403. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.19403
- Liisa Hantsoo, Stephanie Criniti, Annum Khan, Marian Moseley, Naomi Kincler, Laura J. Faherty, C. Neill Epperson, and Ian M. Bennett. A Mobile Application for Monitoring and Management of Depressed Mood in a Vulnerable Pregnant Population Psychiatric Services 2018 69:1, 104-107.
- Stange, JP, Zulueta, J, Langenecker, SA, et al. Let your fingers do the talking: Passive typing instability predicts future mood outcomes. Bipolar Disord. 2018; 20: 285– 288. https://doi.org/10.1111/bdi.12637