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Can phone data help indicate if a person is depressed?

For many people, their smartphone is with them pretty much the entire day. Thus, during the course of a day, a lot of smartphone data may end up building up about a person. This data can say a lot about us: where we've been, who we've contacted through our phones, what we do on our phones, our hobbies/interests, etc. But might a person's smartphone data also hold clues to the person's mental health state? A recent study indicates the answer to this question could be yes.

In the study, researchers put tracking software on the smartphones of 28 individuals. For two weeks, the researchers had this software track things like the individuals' location and their time spent using their phone. The individuals were also asked questions about their mood via their smartphone over this time.

The researchers compared both the tracking data and the mood questions data to the results of depression tests the individuals took to see how good these types of data were at predicting whether a person had depression symptoms.

The researchers found that the tracking data was actually quite good at indicating whether or not a person was experiencing depression symptoms. Things like an individual spending more time on the phone and not traveling to a great deal of locations in a day were associated with a higher likelihood of depression symptoms. The tracking data overall had around a 87 percent success rate of predicting depression, which was a higher success rate than the mood questions data. 

Thus, it appears that the data on a person's smartphone may actually have a lot to say about whether or not they are experiencing depression. One wonders if such data may one day start being used for diagnostic purposes for depression. Detecting depression is a vital part of getting depression sufferers the treatment they need. 

The study's results also underscore how many different aspects of person's life can be affected by depression, including where they go and how they spend their time. The deeply impactful nature depression can have is one of the reasons this mental condition can sometimes affect a person's work abilities. When depression systems make holding regular employment no longer a possibility for a person, one thing the person may want to consider is having a discussion with a disability attorney about whether they would meet the qualification requirements for Social Security disability benefits.

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