According to The Wall Street Journal, tech giant Apple is said to be working with the University of California, Los Angeles, and pharmaceutical company Biogen to develop iPhone features that could help diagnose mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, as well as signs of cognitive decline. Researchers have also reportedly been conducting studies with data ranging from mobility and sleep patterns to facial expressions and heart rates.
While the focus on one’s headspace is fast moving into the tech-enabled sphere, it’s still prudent to seek the help of mental health professionals.
Says Dr Jimmy Lee, a senior consultant with the Institute of Mental Health: “These wearables might provide regular self-assessments of mood or stress levels, and provide feedback to the user. They might be useful monitoring tools, but at present, they are not diagnostic instruments. Digital technology does not provide a medical diagnosis. Also, the accuracy of some tools in predicting emotional states are under evaluation.”
Dr Teng Jia Ying, a consultant with the Department of Psychological Medicine at National University Hospital, shares that while wearable technology can be used to track behaviours like physical exercise and sleep as “these are often difficult to quantify and recall accurately”, a proper evaluation is still required to diagnose mental health symptoms.
“If data on an individual’s sleep and physical activity from wearable technology is combined with results of self-rating questionnaires that screen for depressive symptoms, it’s potentially possible to determine whether one has a high likelihood of depression or not.
“However, for clinically significant depression, a detailed evaluation by a trained mental health professional would still be needed to confirm the diagnosis, assess the severity of the condition, and determine the level of risk.”
Still, Dr Lee – who is part of the development team behind Mindline.sg, a free web app that links Singaporeans to mental health resources – notes that digital technology does have the potential to enhance mental healthcare.
“Digital tools provide a platform for users to be more aware of their physiological and emotional states. Some tools include educational and self-help resources to raise one’s understanding of mental health and tips to manage it. They might also include resources on where users can get professional help,” he says.