You can track everything on your phone – your diet, your car’s miles per gallon, your spending habits – but now you soon might be able to track your happiness, or lack of.
Researchers at Northwestern University used an app to track cell phone usage and found out the more a person uses their cell phone, the more depressed they likely are.
Cell phone usage and depression have been linked in past studies. Back in 2012, the University of Gothenburg in Sweden conducted a study of over 4,000 people between the ages of 20-24 and found heavy cell phone usage connected with not only depression, but stress and sleep disorders.
The remarkable part of this study is how researchers are using the natural capabilities on a smartphone to silently and accurately track a user’s cell phone usage. The study assumes participants are playing games and surfing the Web on their phone and are not communicating to others on the phone.
Based on the 28 individuals studied, the average daily cell phone usage for the depressed participants was at about 68 minutes and for the non-depressed participants, about 17 minutes.
What’s interesting is the study tracked a user’s GPS location to figure out where he or she was while using their cell phone. Generally people who are less depressed go outside and participate in social activities more.
“When people are depressed, they tend to withdraw and don’t have the motivation or energy to go out and do things,” said senior author David Mohr, director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in a statement.
The researchers claim they could diagnose depression with 87 percent accuracy. This app could be potentially installed on someone’s phone who may have experienced a trauma and could be used to identify depression at its onset.
Dr. Ben Michaelis, PhD, a clinical psychologist who recently released a new book entitled, Your Next Big Thing: 10 Small Steps to Get Moving and Be Happy, believes this could be a groundbreaking study to helping diagnose depression.
“Although we are certainly not at the place yet where we can use this kind of motion sensitive data to make firm diagnoses, we can be using it as a ‘red flag,’ to suggest that something is wrong,” Michaelis said. “I believe that there will be many other new uses of this technology to help people with affective illnesses like depression to lead happier and healthier lives.“
However, one potential drawback is convincing the patient to opt into this fairly invasive monitoring.
If you installed this app into everyone’s phone when they first purchased it then it might be of more use, but the information the app would need to diagnose anything could feel invasive to the average cell phone user.
The smartphone data was said to be more accurate than asking people about their mood on a scale from 1 to 10. Turns out, most of the questions are unreliable as a person might lie, but cell phone data wouldn’t lie.
The takeaway from both of these studies is maybe it’s good for your health to disconnect once in a while. Go outside and experience what life has to offer instead of staring into a screen.