Apple is testing depression detection for iPhones, report

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Apple’s iPhone may soon help diagnose users’ depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline by using digital clues to identify mental health issues.

According to people and documents reviewed by The Wall Street JournalApple is working on technology that analyzes user data to report mental health issues.

People close to the project said the sensitive data analyzed can include facial expressions, the way people speak, typing behavior, mobility and sleep patterns.

Users’ heart and breathing rates as well as the pace and frequency at which they walk could also be measured.

The WSJ reports that Apple’s upcoming depression efforts are part of two different research partnerships.

The first project, named “Seabreeze”, is with the University of California on the study of stress, anxiety and depression.

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The second is a partnership with the pharmaceutical company Biogen on the study of mild cognitive impairment, which are conditions that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

Both projects are still in their early stages.

Reports suggest UCLA has been working with Apple Watch and iPhone data since December, acquiring the data of 150 people, which will rise to 3,000 later this year.

Sensitive data was reportedly collected from iPhones and Apple watches as part of the research. Photo: Getty

Its researchers track data from the iPhone’s video camera, keyboard, and audio sensors, as well as watch data, including movement, vital signs and sleep.

They can also measure participants’ facial movements, vocal patterns, a user’s typing speed, frequency of errors, and the content they type.

“Every bit of data could give researchers clues about device users’ emotions, focus, energy level, state of mind and more, according to people and documents. The Wall Street Journal reports.

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It aims to combine this data with questionnaires completed by participants about how they feel to note any signals of relevant mental health issues.

Researchers are also studying the amount of cortisol, a stress hormone, in the hair follicles of participants.

WSJ reports that the researchers hope to implement these signals into an app or feature on Apple devices that could warn people of their mental health risk and prompt them to seek treatment.

Meanwhile, Biogen and Apple confirmed in January that they were collaborating on data tracking for the iPhone and Apple Watch to identify cognitive functions and impairments.

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Apple iPhone Depression
The first signs of cognitive impairment could help detect the warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease in users. Photo: Getty

According to the report, Biogen hopes to encourage Apple to develop an iPhone feature to detect impairments early and help people seek treatment sooner.

The study will follow 20,000 participants over two years, using their data to document possible changes.

Half of the participants would be at high risk of cognitive impairment.

No further details on the extent of the studies were revealed.

Apple previously worked with researchers on health features that were later implemented.

In 2019, Stanford University researchers found in combination with an Apple Watch study, the wearable technology could help detect an irregular heartbeat better known as atrial fibrillation.

In May, Apple updated its Apple Watch software to send a notification if atrial fibrillation is identified for Australians.

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