OK Google, Am I Depressed?

See gif of how it works here.

As reported by The Verge, yesterday Google rolled out a new mobile feature to help people who might think they’re depressed sort it out. Now, when someone searches “depression” on Google from a mobile device (as in the screenshot above), it suggests “check if you’re clinically depressed” – connecting users to a 9 question quiz to help them find out if they need professional help.

Why It’s Hot:

As usual, Google shows that utility is based on intent – instead of just connecting people to information, they’re connecting information to people. In this case, it could be particularly impactful since “People who have symptoms of depression — such as anxiety, insomnia, or fatigue — wait an average of six to eight years before getting treatment, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.” 

Your Instagram Posts May Hold Clues to Your Mental Health

The photos you share online speak volumes. They can serve as a form of self-expression or a record of travel. They can reflect your style and your quirks. But they might convey even more than you realize: The photos you share may hold clues to your mental health, new research suggests.

From the colors and faces in their photos to the enhancements they make before posting them, Instagram users with a history of depression seem to present the world differently from their peers, according to the study, published this week in the journal EPJ Data Science.

“People in our sample who were depressed tended to post photos that, on a pixel-by-pixel basis, were bluer, darker and grayer on average than healthy people,” said Andrew Reece, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University and co-author of the study with Christopher Danforth, a professor at the University of Vermont.

The pair identified participants as “depressed” or “healthy” based on whether they reported having received a clinical diagnosis of depression in the past. They then used machine-learning tools to find patterns in the photos and to create a model predicting depression by the posts.

They found that depressed participants used fewer Instagram filters, those which allow users to digitally alter a photo’s brightness and coloring before it is posted. When these users did add a filter, they tended to choose “Inkwell,” which drains a photo of its color, making it black-and-white. The healthier users tended to prefer “Valencia,” which lightens a photo’s tint.

Depressed participants were more likely to post photos containing a face. But when healthier participants did post photos with faces, theirs tended to feature more of them, on average.

The researchers used software to analyze each photo’s hue, color saturation and brightness, as well as the number of faces it contained. They also collected information about the number of posts per user and the number of comments and likes on each post.

Though they warned that their findings may not apply to all Instagram users, Mr. Reece and Mr. Danforth argued that the results suggest that a similar machine-learning model could someday prove useful in conducting or augmenting mental health screenings.

“We reveal a great deal about our behavior with our activities,” Mr. Danforth said, “and we’re a lot more predictable than we’d like to think.”

Source: New York Times

Why It’s Hot

The link between photos and health is an interesting one to explore. The role of new/alternate technologies (or just creative ways of using existing ones) in identifying illness — whether mental or otherwise — is something we are sure to see more of.

Phone Apps Might Know When You Are Depressed

Motion, audio, and location data harvested from a smartphone can be analyzed to accurately predict stress or depression.

Many smartphone apps use a device’s sensors to try to measure people’s physical well-being, for example by counting every step they take. A new app developed by researchers at Dartmouth College suggests that a phone’s sensors can also be used to peek inside a person’s mind and gauge mental health.

When 48 students let the app collect information from their phones for an entire 10-week term, patterns in the data matched up with changes in stress, depression, and loneliness that showed up when they took the kind of surveys doctors use to assess their patients’ mood and mental health. Trends in the phone data also correlated with students’ grades. The results suggest that smartphone apps could offer people and doctors new ways to manage mental well-being.

Previous studies have shown that custom-built mobile gadgets could indirectly gauge mental states. The Dartmouth study, however, used Android smartphones like those owned by millions of people.

This app, called StudentLife, collects data including a phone’s motion and location and the timing of calls and texts, and occasionally activates the microphone on a device to run software that can tell if a conversation is taking place nearby. Algorithms process that information into logs of a person’s physical activity, communication patterns, sleeping patterns, visits to different places, and an estimate of how often they were involved in face-to-face conversation. Many changes in those patterns were found to correlate significantly with changes in measures of depression, loneliness, and stress. For example, decline in exposure to face-to-face conversations was indicative of depression.


Why It’s Hot: Smartphone sensors have become much more energy-efficient, so detailed, round-the-clock data logging is now feasible without wiping out battery life. Collecting meaningful mental health data from people’s devices could open up new ways for them to get help.


Different Way to Treat Depression: Games

Digital games are gaining notice from some researchers who think they’re a novel way to address mental health issues like depression and anxiety. SuperBetter is currently the subject of two scientific trials, including a National Institutes of Health-funded experiment that will begin this summer. A paper by the creator of Personal Zen, published in the March edition of Clinical Psychological Science, shows the mobile game can decrease anxiety in some users after 25 minutes of use.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is internally testing whether more gamelike elements will make its PTSDCoach app, released in 2011, more effective for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.


It might seem surprising that digital games are being investigated to treat serious mental conditions. But “gamification” tools like SuperBetter and Personal Zen can increase access to mental health treatment, says Carol Landau, a professor of psychiatry at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University, who specializes in depression treatment. “But here’s the caveat: Nothing replaces face-to-face psychotherapy,” she says. “Think how it feels to be comparing a real person who’s listening to you and giving you these skills together, versus a telephone, versus just a game.”

Ms. Wood, 33, who teaches self-defense and violence prevention in Phoenix, credits SuperBetter with creating a structure that helps her complete tasks—what the game calls “quests”—that make her feel better.

“It encourages you to do these daily, small steps that overall improve your general physical well-being, and your general outlook,” says Ms. Wood. For example, studies suggest that getting exercise or talking to friends can help with depression.

She says the game helps break those suggestions into tasks—”go outside for a few minutes” or “contact a friend”—that she can complete, get points for and feel motivated to continue. She discovered the game after hearing about a TED Talk by SuperBetter creator Jane McGonigal.

SuperBetter has been shown to decrease depression in one trial. Researcher Ann Marie Roepke, a University of Pennsylvania psychology graduate student, recruited participants online to play the game.

Why It’s Hot

I thought this could be specifically applicable to Latuda and/or any partner where gamification could help.  It’s interesting to me that people are going to gaming to balance themselves out- for BPD sufferers, it’s telling me that we may be onto something with the targeting we’re employing… and the gamification program that is potentially being planned.