Researchers at Flinders University are leveraging digital technologies to enable early detection and real-time monitoring of symptoms of mental illness.
Currently, the detection, diagnosis and management of mental illness rely primarily on self-reporting symptoms, recalling change in behaviour, emotion or thoughts. However, in a world where smart devices go hand-in-hand with large data sets, emerging research at Flinders suggests there are better ways to objectively detect subtle changes in mental health and predict psychological problems such as depression and suicide earlier.
Niranjan Bidargaddi is the Associate Professor of Personal Health Informatics at Flinders University’s College of Medicine and Public Health. He leads the Personal Health Informatics and Digital Psychiatry lab based at Flinders Digital Health Research Centre Tonsley and SAHMRI.
Associate Professor Bidargaddi has developed innovative smartphone apps to predict the onset of mental health problems and improve the management of mental illnesses.
The apps, MindTick and AIsquared, have become important tools for early screening of symptoms and assisting individuals to integrate the process of behavioural interventions into their daily lives. The apps also enable health professionals to personalise the delivery of timely support and medication management outside of hospital.
‘MindTick app monitors patients by using data from their phones.’ Associate Professor Bidargaddi explains. ‘Patients are also asked questions at random times during the week, for example a notification will pop up on their phone asking how they are feeling.’
Other elements of the app require no action from the patient - the smartphone monitors the patient’s location and how active they have been, including how often they have used the phone to make calls.
‘The smartphone has become a useful tool in the medical armoury, with enormous potential for recording and collating data,’ says Associate Professor Bidargaddi. ‘We can analyse subtle changes which are effectively early warning signs such as a lack of activity, a decline in numbers of phone calls, a change in emotional answers.’
The AIsquared application enables mental health service providers to initiate early support. It monitors prescription refill and appointment patterns, as well as flagging those who are at increased risk of relapse ahead of time.
MindTick and AIsquared applications have been trialled in Australian and US via clinics involving up to 20 clinicians and over 100 patients.
Associate Professor Bidargaddi says, ‘There has been substantial evidence that smartphones can pick up problems even before the person is aware of them, catching the signals before the condition becomes full-blown.’
With early identification and intervention, evidence-based digital resources will enable greater access to the best available treatments for anyone seeking help, regardless of their location.
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