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Smartphones could be used to diagnose depression

There are different kinds of usefulness. There’s the convenient kind that makes life a bit easier but isn’t actually that big of a deal, and then there’s the kind that can legitimately help you in an important way. All of those sensors that get packed into smartphones tend to be the former kind, because they do convenient things like sensing when your smartphone is turned sideways. However, a group of researchers may have found a way to make those sensors the latter kind by using them to detect bipolar disorder. With further research, smartphone could one day be used to diagnose things like anxiety disorders and depression, and help the people suffering from them get the help that they need. 

Smartphones are packed with a lot of sensors that the machine uses to understand its orientation and place in the world. For example, it knows when its is being held sideways, and can locate itself with GPS. But can those sensors also tell a doctor when you’re suffering from a mental illness? A study conducted by Venet Osmani at the Center for Research and Telecommunication Experimentation for Networked Communities (CREATE-NET) in Trento, Italy indicates that a combination of smartphone sensors can detect when a user is having a manic or depressive episode. In the study, Osmani gave 12 bipolar patients smartphones for four months and checked in on them every three weeks to monitor their conditions. It turns out that activity and location data on that smartphone could accurately predict a change in mood at the rate of 94 percent. Monitoring phone calls for frequency and speed of calls bumped that accuracy up to 97 percent. Essentially, when users showed an increase in average activity (measured by GPS location and accelerometer speed), faster calls and more calls total, it indicated a shift into a manic episode. When activity, call length and call volume regressed, it signaled a shift into depression.

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