Smartphone Apps to Manage Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder


Smartphone apps are being developed to address mental health issues such as support, reminders, monitoring of mood changes and even stress levels. Tools under development from startups, academic institutions, and research clinics aim to help people manage everything from severe depression to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. A recent article in Wired magazine points out that “through the discreet and continuous recording of social and physical behavior, these apps can detect changes in mental well-being, deliver micro-interventions when and where needed, and give patients a new awareness of their own illnesses. In the long run, they may even diminish the stigma attached to mental health disorders.”

A Boston-based company Cogito was conducting a clinical trial of an app at the time of the Boston Marathon bombing. Their smartphone application continuously and passively monitors psychological health and well-being using built-in mobile sensors and survey questions. “The bombing offers a unique pre-and post-disaster dataset for understanding the longitudinal trajectories and risk factors for PTSD following trauma. Initial analyses of the data show that survey participation dropped by ~50% during the two weeks immediately after the Boston bombing, perhaps an early indication of the PTSD symptom of withdrawal. Of those that did respond, participants reported an average of ~14% increase in severity of attitudes and behaviors linked with depression and PTSD in the two weeks following the bombing than they did in the two weeks prior.”

A number of apps are being researched to monitor the symptoms of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. The University of Michigan is working with a company to monitor individuals with rapid-cycling bipolar disorder. Although the possibilities are interesting, many of these ‘medical apps’ are untested and unregulated. Last year the FDA released a document for guidance on medical apps, however it focused mostly on apps that diagnose or turn a smartphone into an EEG. There are no guidelines for mental health apps as yet.


November 20, 2014



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