Experimental mobile app may revolutionize future of mental health monitoring, study shows

Researchers found that an experimental mobile app from Posit Science can monitor mental health in ways that are both comparable and superior to current methods, according to a study just published.

Mental health professionals currently tend to rely on having patients respond to standard questionnaires with multiple questions asking patients to self-rate and quantify their feelings on a scale or continuum. For example, the PHQ-9 and the GAD-7 are often used to quantify anxiety and depression – two of the most prevalent mental health problems. Such traditional assessments typically are administered infrequently, and rely on patients to remember how they felt at an earlier period of time.

The ubiquity of mobile devices presents an opportunity for frequent self-administration of self-rating assessments. Researchers working at Posit Science developed the 12-question Immediate Mood Scale (IMS) to frequently measure and monitor self-rated mental health. The IMS is deployed on a standard mobile device, and uses icons and simple standardized questions on a regular basis to monitor how a patient feels over time. The IMS includes both anxiety and depression sub-scales.

In a 110-person study, researchers found that results from the IMS highly correlated with results from the widely-used traditional depression and anxiety assessments, the PHQ-9 and GAD-7, and that the IMS was capable of predicting future performance in these measures. In addition, people could complete the IMS more quickly than traditional measures.

Because the IMS is self-administered using a mobile device, users are able to report their mood much more frequently than they would typically using traditional assessments administered by a clinician.

The researchers also reported that the study data showed that people with mild or moderate depression levels have greater variability in their mood than people with minimal or severe depression. Capturing these fluctuations offers new information not available through traditional measures, and could lead to more sensitive early detection of mood disorders.

The study, which published in the Journal for Medical Internet Research mhealth and uhealth, was conducted by researchers at Posit Science in collaboration with researchers at the University of California San Francisco and the University of California Berkeley. The study was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), as part of a larger initiative focused on monitoring and improving the mental health of soldiers.

“This simple study is a major first step forward in revolutionizing how we monitor and address brain health issues,” said Dr. Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science. “It shows we can now harness mobile technology to provide individuals and their healthcare professionals with dynamic information about how people are feeling in real-time, which could open up many new treatments strategies, including earlier interventions.“

“We can imagine a near future in which you carry a brain health monitor on your phone, and in which providers, patients and caregivers can spot trends and early warning signs, and have tools, including training and other resources on that same phone, to intervene far in advance of negative events.”

Posit Science is the leading provider of computerized brain training shown effective in multiple high quality studies. Exercises and assessments in its BrainHQ online platform and app have shown benefits in more than 140 peer-reviewed science and medical journal articles (across varied populations), including significant gains from training as measured by standard assessments of cognition (e.g., speed, attention, memory), standard assessments of quality of life (e.g., mood, confidence, self-rated health), and real world activities (e.g., balance, driving, everyday activities).

This new experimental app designed to monitor mood over time is being deployed in a DARPA-funded study investigating brain activity-based biomarkers for mood disorders, as well as the impact of BrainHQ training. Prior studies in healthy older adults showed a significant positive impact on mood from BrainHQ training.

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