Our phones may have the answer to managing mental health

Sustainability problem– Mental health and well-being of citizens

We have apps that monitor our basic physical well-being like activity, sleep cycle, heart health etc. A step further would involve these apps communicating with our doctors to keep them informed on our general health and take proactive measures in case we are showing signs of physical sickness.

How does one monitor and manage mental health? Something that has long been associated with social stigma, mental health is often gauged through observation, human interaction and surveys. Is there a way to proactively detect mental health issues without having to face the stigma associated with talking about it?

Sustainability technology– Mobile phone sensors and apps to track signs of depression and failing mental health

The answer lies in our phones. 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. The app 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.

A system where doctors can monitor their patient’s mental health through an app that connects to the phone app’s API in order to look at key behavioural signals will allow for proactive identification of mental health issues without the patient needing to face the stigma or the self-doubt, which is often associated with mental health issues.

Key stakeholders and their role in implementation

Governments: since this involves using very personal data, a strict policy and protocol needs to be established on who owns the data, how it is meant to be used and the measures needed to keep things confidential

Psychiatrists and mental health NGO community: People involved in dealing with mental health issues need to play an active role in educating the public about the pros of such a data-enabled system as well as work with governments to determine appropriate laws

App developers: to establish strict data encryption or protection mechanisms, as well as develop a system that permits hospitals to easily access information through APIs.




Post on talking street lamps:

This is a great use of what I imagine is something similar to motion sensor technology! Based on the description, it appears as though this would be easy to deploy in situations where there is less population density and there are higher chances when the street is completely empty and there is a need to shut off the lights.


I wonder what the application of a such a technology would be in busier areas. Will the technology handle the stress of rapid switching? To visualize this, imagine a room with a such a motion sensor. If 1 person enters and leaves a room every 2 hours, then the technology will work well. But if there is someone constantly entering and leaving the room every 15 minutes, the sensor will have to switch on and off at that speed. At a larger scale, I feel this may stress the sensor and result in quicker failure.


Unless they use programmable logic that allows the sensor itself to be smart in the way it turns the light on and off as per the human traffic frequency and density on the street.


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