App assesses mental health based on how you use your phone

MANILA, Philippines - A startup in Palo Alto, California may have seemingly discovered a new way to assess and diagnose people who have mental illnesses, as featured by MIT Technology Review.

Mindstrong Health is a smartphone app that assesses your mental health based on your physical interactions with your phone.

Once you install the app, it starts to monitor the way you type, tap, and scroll when you use other apps. It encrypts and analyzes this data with the help of machine learning artificial intelligence to reveal the state of your mental health. Results are then shared to you and your medical provider, but Dr. Thomas Insel, co-founder and president of Mindstrong Health, clarified that the app does not collect data on what patients type.

All screenshots from Mindstrong website

The app, meanwhile, lets medical providers know when there may be a problem with the patient. It also allows patients to directly message the medical provider within the app itself.

The 3 doctors, including the former director of the US National Institute of Mental Health, who founded the startup discovered in their research that the trivial act of how people interact with their phones unveil important clues about their mental health.

Through tests, they became convinced that there was a correlation between neurocognitive functions and a person’s behavior on a smartphone. Memory problems, for instance, can be identified by how rapidly you type, what errors you make, and how fast you scroll down your list of contacts.

Co-founder and CEO, Paul Dagum said that their research is now backed by the thousands who have used the app and five years of data they have collected. But work with real patients began just last March, with the doctors hoping that machine learning technology makes the app more accurate as more data is acquired.

Insel added that the company is currently focused mainly on seriously ill people who are at risk of relapse for disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, and substance abuse.

“There are people who are high utilizers of health care and they’re not getting the benefits, so we’ve got to figure out some way to get them something that works better,” he told MIT.

Insel believes the app has potential to precisely diagnose a condition in today’s broad definitions of mental disorders. People who suffer from depression, for example, may show different symptoms and patterns of behavior so it’s important for Mindstrong to learn distinctions through patient data. The makers make it clear that the app, while promising, is still a work in progress.

“We envision that it will be possible to detect mental health deterioration early, and to provide smarter, preemptive care that improves outcomes and reduces resource utilization,” Insel said in another interview with regards to the mental health app's future. –