Mood-forecasting technology can help mental well-being, says study

Imagine a situation where a digital application or a device that can be worn, can forewarn a day in advance if an individual is likely to experience suicidal thoughts and thus alert them or their trusted confidantes. This scenario may soon become a reality, as an outcome of the ongoing research in the field of mood-forecasting.

Presently, the market is dominated by fitness trackers and other electronic devices to monitor an individual’s physical activity. However, scientists believe that a similar technology can be utilized to track an individual’s psychological health also. Integrated in wearables apps, this technology can help detect early symptoms of emotional anxiety, seek help, and preserve an individual’s mental health.

Mood-forecasting exploits mind-body connection

Mood-forecasting uses the connection between the mind and the body to predict mental health problems. According to research, spells of nervousness or distress and changes in an individual’s mental state affect the human body in noticeable ways. One of the well-known emotional bio-indicators in human beings, is the rate at which the heart beats. Another reliable indicator is the pulse rate, which increases whenever an individual feels anxious or stressed.

The human body tends to respond to emotional turmoil in several other ways. Dr. Ipsit Vahia, a psychiatrist at McLean Hospital in Belmont, said that reduced mobility and sleeplessness are telltale signs of depression. While perspiration intensifies with stress, the skin temperature often tends to increase when an individual is emotionally aroused, according to Harvard psychologist, Matthew Nock. Apart from the above mentioned signs, the speed at which an individual calls, texts, and shares posts on various digital social platforms is also an indicator of an individual’s ‘digital phenotype’.

Mood-forecasting helps block slide towards depression

Academic researchers and private companies are striving towards developing devices and programs that can not only help in identifying and interpreting an individual’s emotional bio-indicators, but also respond by sharing useful insights.

For instance, an application or a device that can forecast an individual’s mood may urge a person to call a friend, when they have reduced texting remarkably. Likewise, an app may detect if an individual is feeling low, through no movement for a long stretch, and prompt a dear one to advice the person to take a walk or go out and meet friends. On the other hand, these kinds of digital behavior could be directly shared with an individual’s physician, who could then take the necessary preventive measures.

Rosalind Picard, a scientist at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, said that if an individual makes these micro adjustments, probably they would stop relapsing into depression and bounce back to their normal selves.

App predicted depression accurately in 80 percent incidences

A research team heralded by Picard reported that an experimental sensor worn on the wrist was able to identify stress. For five semesters, the team followed a group of 201 participants including college going students. Each of them wore the wrist sensor, that kept a track of their activity on their cellphone, their body temperature, and the rate of skin conductance. The study showed that 80 percent of the times the app predicted that the students were feeling depressed, it was right.

In an unpublished research conducted by Nock, from 2015 to 2018, a wristband that maintained a record of the patients’ skin conductance, mobility, and body temperature, could accurately predict 75 percent of the times if an individual was likely to feel suicidal, a day prior to when such thoughts actually arose.

Researchers at the universities of Chicago and Michigan carried out a study spanning across eight weeks on nine individuals suffering from bipolar disorder. The results from this study revealed that changes in these individuals’ pattern of using the cellphone, predicted symptoms of not only depression, but also mania.

Mood-forecasting products developed despite privacy concerns

Although mood-forecasting has great potential, yet there are some privacy concerns associated with it. For instance, one of the concerns raised by Picard is that employers will be able to access an individual’s personal data and use it to discriminate against them.

Jukka-Pekka Onnela, health data science program director at Harvard’s T.H Chan School of Public Health, however stated that more research is required to accurately figure out the difference between a regular digital phenotype and the one that may be a reason for concern.

However, despite these concerns, mood-forecasting products are emerging in the market and some of them are already out for sale. Mindstrong, a Palo Alto based firm, is developing an app that can predict mental health by tracking an individual’s smartphone activity. Likewise, San Francisco-based SpireHealth has come up with a biomarker-reading wearable device that can be easily slipped inside a bra or a sock.

Seeking help for mental illness

The well-being of an individual is determined by both their physical as well as mental health. It is a general tendency that while one may pay close attention to their physical health, they do not accord the same importance to their mental health. In the present day circumstances, it is no longer difficult to seek treatment for mental disorders. The diagnosis has become more scientific and mental health treatment centers are better equipped to implement practical solutions for the sufferers.

If you or a loved one are looking for a reliable mental health facility, get in touch with Medical Concierge, where we offer evidence-based modalities, comprising medications, therapies and alternative programs, customized to suit each and every individual’s requirement. You can also call our 24/7 mental health treatment helpline (877) 636-0042 or chat online with our admission counselor to understand how our round-the-clock care and medical supervision ensures lasting recovery for our patients.

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