- Insiders say Apple is working with researchers to find signals in iPhone use
- It will find trends in using tools that indicate people’s mental health issues
- If it’s successful, the data could be used in new apps to diagnose depression
- That being said, this research is in a very early stage and it is not clear whether it will ever work.
Apple is working on new technology that could be used to help diagnose mental health conditions such as depression and cognitive decline, insiders claim.
Working with the University of California at Los Angeles and biotech firm Biogen, Apple is hoping to get more out of health-related sensors in its devices.
The firm already has extensive healthcare technology offerings, including heart, sleep and activity monitoring via the Apple Watch and iPhone.
talking to insiders wall street journalEl, says researchers will use data from iPhone sensors to look for digital signals associated with certain mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety, and feed them into an algorithm.
It should be able to reliably predict depression and other conditions, and form the basis for new features in a future version of Apple’s iOS operating system.
Apple is working on new technology that could be used to help diagnose mental health conditions such as depression and cognitive decline, insiders claim
What is depression?
Although it is normal to feel sad from time to time, people with depression can feel sad continuously for weeks or months.
Depression can affect anyone at any age and is quite common – about one in ten people are likely to experience it at some point in their life.
Depression is a real health condition that people can’t just ignore or ‘get out of’.
Symptoms and effects vary, but can include feeling persistently upset or hopeless, or losing interest in things you used to enjoy.
It can also cause physical symptoms such as trouble sleeping, feeling tired, low appetite or sex drive, and even physical pain.
In extreme cases it can lead to suicidal thoughts.
Traumatic events can trigger it, and people with a family history may be at greater risk.
It’s important to see a doctor if you think you or someone you know has depression, as it can be managed with lifestyle changes, therapy, or medication.
Source: NHS Choices
The details come from two research projects involving using the technology in devices such as iPhones and Apple Watches to predict mental health outcomes.
One, from UCLA, is exploring stress, anxiety and depression in partnership with Apple, and is codenamed ‘Seabreeze’.
The second, codenamed ‘P’, is the work of Cambridge-Massachusetts-based Biogen, and designed to study mild cognitive impairment.
These are early-stage projects, and Apple has yet to confirm details in the WSJ report, or whether they will actually result in new iPhone features.
To effectively diagnose a mental health condition, the patient needs close monitoring by specialists to see a change in behavior from the norm.
Replacement of these experts with changes in phone use behavior can be used to give early indications, especially in areas where experts may not be widely available.
UCLA says its research into signs of stress, anxiety and depression began with a pilot phase in 2020 using fall tracking features in the Apple Watch and iPhone.
The team is expanding this to use data from 3,000 people this year, and will track data from iPhone cameras, keyboards and audio sensors and combine it with clock information on movement, sleep and vital signs.
This can include facial expressions, how volunteers speak, how often they go for a walk, how well they sleep as well as heart and breathing rates.
People ‘close to the study’ told the WSJ that they may also be looking at typing speed, frequency of typos, the content they type, and other factors.
These are all considered ‘digital signals’ that point to signs of a mental health condition.
These large data sets coming from the tools can tell experts things we don’t know about ourselves, including clues on emotions, concentration, energy levels, and states of mind.
Working with the University of California at Los Angeles and biotech firm Biogen, Apple is hoping to get more from health-related sensors into its devices
Apple Watches Have Saved Lives Before
In April 2017, Casey Bennett was on his way home from school in Laytonsville, Maryland, when he was hit by another vehicle, sending him and his Jeep Patriot flying through the air.
Bennett, 22, found himself hanging from the driver’s seat with his seat belt, his iPhone too far out of reach to call for help.
However, he remembered that his Apple Watch included an SOS emergency feature and held down the side button to contact the emergency rescue worker at the scene in six minutes.
Many wearers use the Apple Watch’s heart-monitoring capabilities to catch cardiovascular problems early.
James Green, 32, said that in 2017 his watch informed him of a sudden increase in his heart rate, a sign of a possible pulmonary embolism.
Greene had already suffered a life-threatening clot and rushed to the hospital, where doctors found a new clot on his lung that, if left untreated, could die within minutes.
He says that he is alive only because of that notification.
‘Never thought of the stupid Lily’ [sic] Wrist computer bought two years ago will save my life,’ Green tweeted. ‘Saw my heart rate increased, eliminated pulmonary embolism.’
Reports suggest that UCLA researchers are asking volunteers to fill out questionnaires on their mental health, and look for stress hormones in their hair follicles to see if the data match.
A future app, possibly the Apple Health app, could warn someone that they are at risk and that they should seek professional care.
Biogen, meanwhile, is working with a group of…