Apps are all the rage with smartphone and tablet users. There is a staggering variety…
Mobile Devices Help Monitor Mental Health
It seems like there are a million apps for mobile devices that address every need under the sun. Health is not exempt from app development, and you can find those that will track how many steps you take in a day, how many calories you eat and even measure your blood pressure. Apps for physical health are not difficult to design, but what about mental health? There are some apps that attempt to gauge and track mental well-being with surveys, medication reminders or advice, but these are flawed and incomplete. Mental health is more challenging to measure than physical health, but strides are being made toward being able to use devices to monitor mental health.
Tracking Physical Signs of Mental Illness
Symptoms of physical illnesses are typically straightforward to measure and track, but with mental illness, recognizing symptoms is much more complicated. A device can easily measure blood glucose levels for a diabetic, but measuring mood for someone with depression is not so easy. Researchers are working on ways to track and monitor mental illnesses by measuring certain physical symptoms. These include skin temperature, heart rate and even changes in voice, facial expression or language.
To be able to do this requires intensive research into how people with various mental illnesses experience subtle physiological changes with changing moods. For instance, researchers track patients whose moods change significantly and have found certain changes in voice and language patterns can indicate severe depression. Patients tend to speak more slowly and with a breathier sound when more depressed. The same researchers are also recording people talking about their moods to find patterns in facial expressions. They will compare the results of people with mood disorders to those without to find the keys to identifying shifts in depressive moods.
Social Media and Mood
Mental health researchers are not restricting their work to apps that track mood and symptoms. They are also looking to social media sites that people interact with using their mobile devices. How people use the sites can say a lot about mental health. Researchers have already figured out how to determine from a Twitter feed whether an individual has been diagnosed with a specific mental illness. Using all of the available data on sites like Twitter, researchers are learning how to use subtle social cues to screen people for mental illness. Being able to do so could provide an important preventive tool.
Importance of Tech for Mental Health
Technology is the future, and using devices to track mental illness symptoms or to screen for early signs of a disorder is important. A quarter of all adults in the U.S. will experience some type of mental illness, and yet most don’t have access to good mental health care. If well-designed apps were available, more people could be reached. Someone concerned about mental health is more likely to try out an app than reach out to a doctor or a clinic. Technology in the form of apps is also a good way to reach young people who might otherwise slip through the cracks.
Mental illness is an issue that affects millions of people every day. While technology and mobile devices present problems of their own, we can still use them to help people. Diagnosing and monitoring mental health has always been more complicated than tracking physical illnesses, but with the assistance of technology, it may become easier and more reliable.