The first smartphone app that automatically provides indicators of mental health status has been created by researchers at Dartmouth University in the US state of New Hampshire. The first version is oriented towards students, but they say it's applicable to all populations with an eye to reducing stress and increasing productivity and quality of life.
The app, a work in progress, is being called The StudentLife app and it tracks mental health status by means of smartphone sensors.
"The StudentLife app is able to continuously make mental health assessment 24/7, opening the way for a new form of assessment," says computer science Professor Andrew Campbell, the study's senior author. "This is a very important and exciting breakthrough."
For the first test-run, a test group of 48 Dartmouth students downloaded an Android prototype of the app that monitored readings from their smartphones' sensors (such as accelerometer, microphone, light sensor and GPS) for 10 weeks. Using their academic performance as a baseline, the readings were used to interpret students' mental health based on factors such as stress, time spent socialising and physical activity levels.
Data from the sensors was assessed using algorithms and the app was able to measure a considerable number of behaviors automatically without input from the students including conversations in number and duration, sleep duration, walking, sitting, running, standing and the location of students on campus, discerning automatically between the gym, the cafeteria, parties and class.
The app could also detect information about eating habits and how good the user was feeling about him or herself, among other factors, with no conscious input from the students.
The researchers compared the results of passive and automatic sensor data to results from traditional mental health evaluations of the students in the test group and concluded that the app's assessments were accurate.
The prototype version of the app provided neither feedback nor interventions for the students, but should it become available to the public, the idea is for individuals to be able to track their mental health and manage their stress before it wears on them enough to require doctors' visits.
"We purposely provided students with no feedback in this first study because we didn't want to use StudentLife as a behavioral change tool. We simply wanted to 'record' their time on campus," says Campbell. "Providing feedback and intervention is the next step. For example, we might inform students of risky behavior, such as partying too much, poor levels of sleep for peak academic performance, poor eating habits or being too socially isolated."
Findings were presented at the ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing and the paper has been nominated for best paper at UbiComp, the top conference mobile computing.—AFP/Relaxnews 2014
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