Can our Smartphones Help Remedy Mental Health Problems?

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We live in an era where mental health problems, large and small, pile up at a pace unmanageable for treatment centers. It seems as if several companies are now trying to put the technology in our pockets to use and fill the market gap.

A behavioral health analytics startup called Ginger.io has recently built quite a name for itself in the world of mobile applications. The company released its application during June this year and it is starting to receive increased attention. Concept wise this commercialized application builds on years of research from the well renowned MIT Media Lab.

MIT News Office reports that the company sees smartphones as automated diaries and they produce significant behavioral data such as location, calling and texting records and app usage. All these features help to create a picture of a user’s daily behavioral patterns. According to the researchers behind Ginger.io depressed people isolate themselves and have a hard time getting up to school or work at the same time as they are not communicating with others in a way they typically do.

Surveillance apps like these might scare some people, but if you are in the need of help they might very well pose a viable option to no help at all. The application is currently being used by thousands of patients in the United States and is able to detect depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders and schizophrenia. After patients fill out a brief survey about their conditions, treatment and health care provider the app gets to work, passively gathering massive amounts of interaction and location data points.

One major aim of the company is to use big data analytics in order to push healthcare towards preventative measures. The data is collected in order to prompt early intervention of symptomatic patients in order to decrease costs, prevent relapses and improve outcomes.

TechCrunch recently described a very interesting and admirable new initiative from the company. This time Ginger.io has announced the launch of Utah SmartCare, which is a platform designed to help low-income Utah residents suffering from mental health issues. Utah is the most depressed and suicidal state in the United States (even though no one really knows why) and any help is certainly welcome in tackling the problems. Nearly 80 % of the 500 participants in the initial trial live at or below the poverty line and constitute a group that might not receive adequate help in battling their conditions.

There are also many other mental health initiatives out there harnessing the power of our data gathering devices. For instance, a team of computer scientist and behavioral psychologists at the Darthmouth College have demonstrating great success with their mobile application.

Similarly to Ginger.io, the initiative has been able to capture the mental health and behavioral trends among students by using passive sensor data, according to Wired. The initiative strips raw data from the phone’s microphone, accelerometer, light sensor and location sensors. The data is run through a machine learning algorithm to find patterns in sleep, conversation and activity data. The application is soon to find its way into society and become useful for patients of different kinds.

There is a world of other initiatives ongoing and the market potential seems enormous. Some are extremely similar to the above mentioned applications, such as Mobilyze which uses 40 sensors to track users’ behavior patterns and moods to identify states trigger depression before it happens.

Popular Mechanics lists some other more diversified applications which are up and coming, such as mind games applications and the Post – Traumatic Stress Disorder coach for veterans, backed by the U.S. government. This wide ecosystem of mental health applications seems to gather serious attention and momentum; so whether you’re a patient, developer or investor we suggest you to monitor the developments closely.

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