The sensors in a smartphone might one day be able to help identify whether the user of the device is suffering from depression, according to a new study published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Through data such as average daily phone use and GPS coordinates, scientists were able to identify which people in their study group were suffering from depression with a very high level of accuracy. While this could be a breakthrough, the study was rather small and there is some missing data, suggesting that the technique might not yet be ready for consumer use.

The research is significant because of how high the rate of depression in the U.S. is. In 2012, around 16 million people, or 6.9 percent, suffered at least one major depressive episode. Finding ways to diagnose patients is extremely important, as is keeping track of already diagnosed patients.

Researchers conducted the study by finding 40 people between the ages of 19 and 58. Participants were asked to fill out a survey commonly used to diagnose depression, PHQ-9, after which their movements were tracked over a period of two weeks. Actions were tracked through a sensor data acquisition app on Android devices called "Purple Robot." Behavioral features were developed and extracted from GPS location and phone usage data.

Those who suffer from depression reportedly tend to frequent fewer locations than those who do not, and they also tend to be more withdrawn from a social standpoint. Researchers studied data to see if there was a correlation between a high level of phone use, which signifies being withdrawn, and depression. It's important to mention that in the end, only 28 participants were included in the study due to technical and adherence issues. Among the 28 participants, scientists were able to determine if a participant was depressed with 87 percent accuracy.

"It's a very small study, and they didn't get data over a long period of time, but those things aside, it definitely advances our knowledge base," said Ethan Berke, an epidemologist from Dartmouth College who did not work on the study, in an interview with The Verge.

While the study is certainly a start, it will be interesting to break it down even more to see what users are doing on their devices and if there is a correlation between depression and doing things like playing games or watching YouTube videos compared with surfing the Web and messaging friends. Participants were also not asked whether or not they used their devices for work, an important factor.

Despite these issues, the team is enrolling another 120 people in the study who will be monitored more closely.

Via: The Verge

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