Feeling Depressed? Your Phone May Detect It

Phone data could predict with 87% accuracy whether someone had depressive symptoms. Most of us are pretty attached to our phones, and researchers are starting to figure out what that connection can tell us about our health, including our mood. In fact, your phone may be able to tell if you’re depressed even better than a self-assessment of your own depression can, according to a small new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.


Study authors found that the more time people spend on their phones, the more likely they're to be depressed. They also found spending a lot of time at home led to more depression. Participants' phone data could predict 87% accuracy in detecting symptoms of depression. Out of 28 patients ages 19-58 were studied along with their smartphone location and usage monitoring software. 

At the start of the study, they took a standardized questionnaire that measures depressive symptoms; half of the subjects had symptoms of depression, and half did not. For two weeks, the phones tracked GPS location information every five minutes and pinged the users with questions about their mood several times a day.

The phone data the researchers collected were rich: how many places the participants visited each day, how much time they spent in each of those places and how frequently they used their phones. One of the study’s authors and a postdoctoral fellow and computer scientist in preventive medicine at Feinberg. The researchers then correlated this objective data with their depression test scores.

What they hoped to find was a connection between the objective markers of behavior—such as where the people were and how often they changed locations—and their depression test results. 

The results could be a useful direction to begin tracking depression without the user having to report how they were feeling, which is often a barrier to depression treatment. Depressed people tended to use their phone on average of 68 minutes using their phones each day. People not depressed only spend 17 minutes on average. 

Phone use in and out becomes a distraction from the low feelings. While the research is preliminary, researchers hopes to add to the number of smartphone sensors and use these KPIs to help manage depression and detect it quicker.