Researchers develop app that monitors mental health based on smartphone usage

Researchers develop app that monitors mental health based on smartphone usage

A team of researchers, from Dalhousie University, in Canada, has developed a new mobile application that is able to monitor the user's mental health based on how he interacts with his smartphone and with the data collected by the equipment. PROSIT, say those responsible, can detect symptoms of anxiety or depression through the records of physical exercise, sleep, number of calls made and received, history of messages and musical tastes. However, the software goes even deeper in some details, also counting the speed with which the user writes and the force with which he presses on the display, for example.

But not just the data that PROSIT lives on. In fact, the app asks you to share audio where you report the best moments of your week and to rate your days on a scale of 0 to 5. The app is not yet publicly available. So far, there are only a group of 300 people testing this program, and about half are patients diagnosed with psychiatric problems.

The researchers say they are aware of all the privacy issues that may arise before an app of this nature, since the program monitors a good part of what the user does on the mobile phone and because it is being developed with a special focus on young people. This is also why the application requires the signature of a consent form and that the data is stored in a "safe place", as indicated by the institution.

Despite the guarantees, it will be complicated to see this app in a common application store, since there is an increased risk of theft of personal data.

Those in charge justify the need to analyze this type of interaction because the way "young people interact with family and friends can say a lot about their health and well-being". The team stresses that, currently, it is difficult to remember all the interactions we have, since they have also started to happen in the digital domain, where everything is more instantaneous and fleeting. Hence, he explains, the need to capture all these moments – so that a more detailed picture of the psychological profile of people can be built.

The solution is innovative and can be a complement for health professionals who accompany patients with mental illnesses. Note that this app is not a diagnostic tool per se, but rather a window into users' behavioral patterns that can provide valuable information to psychologists and psychiatrists on how their patients act outside of consultations. In practice, PROSIT can even help to formulate more appropriate therapies and increase the effectiveness of treatments as a result.