Can your phone tell if you’re depressed?

July 21, 2015

About this event

Your smartphone may know you better than you think; after all, it’s always by your side. One of the latest studies published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) employed an app, Purple Robot, to examine how smartphone GPS and usage data relate to self-reported depressive symptoms.

The exploratory study found that those who moved less geographically and used their cellphone longer periods of time and more frequently had greater depressive symptoms.

This study comes at a time when there has been increasing debates over the use of health-tracking technologies, its potential and impacts on health outcomes, as well as growing concerns over how to address depression in society. In Canada, 11.3% of adults will experience depression at some point during their lifetime, and 4.7% of youths for major depression. Despite high rates, there continues to be stigma attached to depression stands as a barrier to diagnosis, treatment, and acceptance.

Nonetheless, the study remains at an early stage of research. A similar app, Ginger.io, which collects communication and mobility data to assess and track the user’s mental health, is being piloted at various sites and undergoing further testing for different use cases. Before these applications can be used routinely, they must be tested to demonstrate that they can stand as reliable indicators.

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