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Mental Health Innovation and Dr. Tom Insel: from the NIMH to Google/ Verily Life Sciences to Startup Mindstrong

For­mer Alpha­bet exec is work­ing on an idea to detect men­tal health dis­or­ders by how you type on your phone (CNBC):

Can a smart­phone detect whether a user is sui­ci­dal or depressed?

That’s the promise of an explod­ing num­ber of men­tal health entre­pre­neurs, who are explor­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties to mon­i­tor users’ smart­phone behav­ior to detect a vari­ety of symp­toms — all with their con­sent.

Dr. Thomas Insel joined Ver­i­ly, Alphabet’s life sci­ences unit, less than two years ago to do just that.

Insel, a psy­chi­a­trist and the for­mer chief of the U.S. Nation­al Insti­tute of Men­tal Health, was tasked with form­ing a team ded­i­cat­ed to inno­vat­ing in men­tal health with new tech­nol­o­gy. Insel remained qui­et about his goals for the unit, until he left the com­pa­ny this week for a new start­up…

Men­tal health tech­nol­o­gy is a big mar­ket oppor­tu­ni­ty, with stud­ies find­ing that some 30% of peo­ple will expe­ri­ence a men­tal health dis­or­der in their life­time — and the major­i­ty of these peo­ple aren’t get­ting the care that they need, accord­ing to the World Health Organization…“In con­trast with most of the tech­nol­o­gy in med­i­cine, there’s an oppor­tu­ni­ty in men­tal health to do every­thing on the phone,” said Insel.

The Startup

Star Neu­ro­sci­en­tist Tom Insel Leaves the Google-Spawned Ver­i­ly for … a Start­up? (Wired):

At Mind­strong, one of the first tests of the con­cept will be a study of how 600 peo­ple use their mobile phones, attempt­ing to cor­re­late key­board use pat­terns with out­comes like depres­sion, psy­chosis, or mania. “The com­pli­ca­tion is devel­op­ing the behav­ioral fea­tures that are action­able and infor­ma­tive,” Insel says. “Look­ing at speed, look­ing at laten­cy or key­strokes, look­ing at error—all of those kinds of things could prove to be inter­est­ing.” Maybe in five years dig­i­tal phe­no­types will have gone the way of neu­ro­bi­ol­o­gy and genet­ics in men­tal health, Insel acknowl­edges, but for now the tech ideas are worth a look… “Those kind of appli­ca­tions are the ones I like most, because they’re one-to-many,” says Joseph Kvedar, who runs the Con­nect­ed Health pro­gram at Part­ners Health Care in Boston. “They enable us to look at a pop­u­la­tion, screen in the back­ground for chal­lenges, and then inter­vene when nec­es­sary with a qual­i­fied pro­fes­sion­al to help. What we do now is wait for you to decide you’re depressed and come to us.”

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