Study claims phones can help predict signs of depression

In a world where a whole lot of people are looking down at their phones, while twiddling the screen with their thumbs, calling, texting, playing games and whatnot, it seems researchers are finding a connection between our phone habits and overall mental health.

A new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research has claimed that a phone may be able to tell or predict depression in humans better than self-assessment. According to David Mohr, one of the authors and researchers of the study, "we found that the more time people spend on their phones, the more likely they are to be more depressed." Furthermore, the research has found that spending a lot of time at home was linked to depression, and that mere phone data can predict symptoms of depression on someone, with an accuracy rate of 87%.

To help come up with these findings, the research recruited 28 people from Craigslist, with ages ranging from 19-58 years old. Their phones were then installed with applications that tracked their location, and recorded usage. For the first part of the study, the participants were tasked to answer a standardized questionnaire that allegedly helps measure symptoms of depression. Half of the participants who were asked to participate showed symptoms of depression, while half did not. The apps in turn tracked the location of the participants every five minutes, and also asked them questions regarding their mood several times in one day.

The phone data collected by the researchers consisted of the number of places participants visited each day, how long they spend time in a certain place, and how frequently they use their phones. This collected objective data was then analyzed together with the depression questionnaire test results.

One of the main goals of the study was to discover a connection between the objective data: where the participants go, how often they travel from one place to another, and the questionnaire's outcome. If this is achieved, the need to manually ask the participants how they were feeling would not be needed anymore, which reportedly is a barrier towards treatment of depression. According to Mohr:

One of the things that we find over and over again is that people don’t answer questions. In apps, they’ll respond to questions for a few days and then get tired of it.

The results seem to have been on their favor, successfully finding a link between the collected objective data and depression. It was found out that people who tend to only spend time in one or two places, such as people staying at home, or go to work and return home, were more likely to have higher depression scores. Moreover, people who stuck to a regular pattern of motion every day were seen to be less depressed. Mohr explains that when people experience mental health problems, their circadian rhythm, or a daily activity cycle is destroyed.

Digging deeper, the report has concluded that depressed people spend at least 68 minutes using their phones every day, while those who are not only spend 17. Contemplating why phone usage rises with depression, Mohr sees phones as a "distraction" used by depressed people, from tasks they have to do.

One of the things we see when people are depressed is that people tend to start avoiding tasks or things they have to do, particularly when they’re uncomfortable. Using the phone, going in and using an app, is kind of a distraction.

Lastly, the researchers emphasized that getting treatment for people with depression is a "critical failure point" in public health. They also speculate on a possibility for an app to be available, which can accurately foretell depressive states and also help give the proper treatment needed.

Back in January, a relatively connected study was conducted, and claimed that men who post self-portraits or "selfies," might be at risk of having some mild psychological problems.

Source: TIME | Head Down Image via Shutterstock

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