Detecting depression: Phone apps could monitor teen angst

Rising suicide rates and depression in U.S. teens and young adults have prompted researchers to ask a provocative question: Could the same devices that some people blame for contributing to tech-age angst also be used to detect it?

The idea has sparked a race to develop apps that warn of impending mental health crises. Call it smartphone psychiatry or child psychology 2.0.

Studies have linked heavy smartphone use with worsening teen mental health. But as teens scroll through Instagram and Snapchat, tap out texts or watch YouTube videos, they also leave digital footprints that might offer clues to their psychological well-being.

Preliminary studies show changes in typing speed, voice tone, word choice and how often kids stay home could signal trouble.

National Institute of Mental Health former Director Dr. Thomas Insel, now a leader in the smartphone psychiatry movement says there might be as many as 1,000 smartphone "biomarkers" for depression.

Researchers are testing experimental apps that use artificial intelligence to try to predict depression episodes or potential self-harm.


Dawn Kamber