Mental Health Disorders Tracked With Data From Wearables With Fitness Tracking

Mental health doctors in the US have been investigating the role of wearables fitness devices like Fitbit, Apple Watch, Google Watch and others in finding methods to diagnose mental health diseases like depression and anxiety.

A team of researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have developed a deep-learning model call WearNet, in which 10 variables collected by Fitbit activity tracker were studied. Different types of data variables like total daily steps, calorie burn rates, average heart rate and others. The researchers gathered & analyzed this Fitbit data from individuals for over 60 days.

WearNet did a much better job at detecting depression & anxiety as compared to the other high regarded machine learning model. It also predicted mental health outcomes at the individual level while other analyses asses correlations and risks at the group level.

“Deep learning discovers the complex associations of these variables with mental disorders,” said researcher Chenyang Lu, the Fullgraf Professor at the McKelvey School of Engineering and a professor of medicine at the School of Medicine. “Machine learning is our most powerful tool to extract these underlying relationships. Our work provided evidence, based on a large and diverse cohort, that it is possible to detect mental disorders with wearables. The next step is to convince a hospital system or some company to implement it.”

Researchers included Ruixuan Dai, who worked in Lu’s lab as a doctoral student and is now a software engineer at Google; Thomas Kannampallil, an associate professor of anesthesiology and associate chief research information officer at the School of Medicine and an associate professor of computer science and engineering at McKelvey Engineering; Seunghwan Kim, a doctoral candidate at the School of Medicine; Vera Thornton, an MD/PhD candidate at the School of Medicine; and Laura Bierut, MD, the Alumni Endowed Professor of Psychiatry at the School of Medicine.

The team presented its findings on May 10 at the ACM/IEEE Conference on Internet of Things Design and Implementation. The paper was awarded the Best Paper Award for IoT Data Analytics at the conference.

Wearable data could be a boon to mental health diagnosis and treatment, according to Lu.

“Going to a psychiatrist and filling out questionnaires is time-consuming, and then people may have some reticence to see a psychiatrist,” he said. “People are going about their lives while suffering from a disease that results in lower productivity and poorer life quality. This AI model is able to tell you that you have depression or anxiety disorders. Think of the AI model as an automated screening tool that could recommend that you go see a psychiatrist.”

There is “an urgent need for an unobtrusive approach to detecting mental disorders,” the researchers said. “Early detection can help clinicians diagnose and treat mental disorders in a timely manner. It can also enable individuals to adjust their behaviors and mitigate the impact of the disorders.”

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