New smartphone apps to assist in the treatment of various psychiatric disorders could be available in the future as a growing number of tech startups, academic institutions and research clinics work on developing and testing the new tools.
One of those apps under development, called Priori, was created by researchers at the University of Michigan and is designed to collect data on person’s speech as a way of analyzing changes in a person’s mood related to bipolar disorder. The hope is that the information might be used to predict an impending manic or depressive episode.
“The question isn’t whether or not this technology is going to be used in healthcare and monitoring individuals with psychiatric illnesses,” Melvin McInnis, MD, of the University of Michigan, who helped developed Priori, told Wired. “The question is really: How?”
A Boston-based tech startup called Cogito has been working on an app called Cogito Companion that uses a phone’s GPS, accelerometer, as well as light and sound sensors to record social interactions, time spent on the phone, and speech. The data collected is then used in making a profile to describe what patients may be dealing with, such as isolation, poor sleep, or trauma.
“You’re getting a whole host of new data from different sources, and if intervention can be made more efficient, I think practitioners would rally behind that,” Adam Haim, chief of clinical trials operations and biostatistics at the National Institute of Mental Health, told Wired. “But it would also require additional training, and it would be an iterative process.”
Priori is one of many efforts to address mental health through smartphone apps. Tools gestating within startups, academic institutions, and research clinics aim to help people manage everything from severe depression to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Through the discreet and continuous recording of social and physical behavior, these apps can detect changes in mental well-being, deliver micro-interventions when and where needed, and give patients a new awareness of their own illnesses. In the long run, they may even diminish the stigma attached to mental health disorders.