“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.
“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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