Would You Like Your Computer Or Your Smartphone To Determine The State of Your Mental Health?

Do you think what you do online is a reflection of your mental well-being?  If you said no, think again.  A recent study shows that there is a correlation between the two.

This morning I had my local news channel on when I heard them talking about a study that shows a relationship between the way someone uses the Internet and whether they are depressed.  For a description of the study, you can go to this N.Y. Times article.

The findings suggest that people who obsessively check their e-mail, frequently switch between Internet applications (like video watching, games and chat rooms), and engage in high levels of file sharing (like movies and music) might be showing signs of depression.  An earlier study already suggested that people who constantly check their e-mail may be experiencing high levels of anxiety, a possible symptom of depression.

Well, the question is; what do researchers plan to do with this type of information?  The answer is a little weird, if you ask me.  The idea is to develop software that will let users know if how they are spending their time online indicates a depressive mood.  Many people are not aware when they become depressed, so this software will act as a tool to help them identify the signs.  This just feels like self-help with a twist.  But how might it be used?

The N.Y. Times article suggests that colleges could use it to track students’ online behavior and then notify counselors if there is a potential problem with depression.  That’s a bit Orwellian, if you ask me.  As the article states, it is unlikely that schools can do this for privacy reasons.  For the sake of argument, let’s say that colleges figure out a way to track students’ online usage to determine the state of their mental health.  What about businesses or the government finding ways to use it with employees?  Maybe there is a benefit for people in high stress situations.  But, overall, I don’t like the idea of being monitored via technology.

It seems that this type of technology is already in the works for Smartphones.  Check out this Cnet blog post to read more.  A psychologist, David Mohr, “has been adapting phones as a virtual therapist for patients prone to depression”.  This technology sounds a bit intrusive, since it can “determine specific states, so [patient’s] location where they are, their activity, their social context, who they’re with, what they’re engaged in, and their mood”.  If you seem depressed, your phone can text or call you with an automated message suggesting the person call someone or get out of the house.  Dr. Mohr has tested it with eight patients, who seem to have been helped by their virtual therapy.   See here (CBS Chicago).  Do I feel any better about this in a medical context?  According to Dr. Mohr, it could be a more cost-effective way to treat depression.

So what do you think?  Do you want your mental state, your emotional state, your mood, to be monitored by your computer or your smartphone?  If you possibly suffer from depression, would it be a useful tool?  Or do you think that this type of technology has the potential for abuse – in a Big Brother sort of way?

© Robin Tjernagel
Crime and Literature
Real Life and Life Imagined

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6 thoughts on “Would You Like Your Computer Or Your Smartphone To Determine The State of Your Mental Health?”

  1. What research is left for purely altruistic reasons? Don’t almost all studies have some profit motivation behind them? Maybe I am just being cynical…

    You make some great observations and I would love to read your perspective if you decide to write about this!

  2. I read the NYTimes article this weekend (was considering writing about it as well). I find the presumption of certain surfing patterns to be either (a) too obvious or (b) too incomplete.

    And I certainly wouldn’t want yet one more Big Brother application theoretically analyzing my surfing patterns for signs of depression.

    I’m all for apps and data, but the human factor in all this? Isn’t isolation and disconnection part of what causes depression???

    I might add that the data may be interesting, but those collecting it also have a vested interest in commercializing it.

  3. I totally agree. I prefer the personal touch. I would not use the software.

    I do wonder about the doctor who says his patients benefited from the ‘virtual therapist’ on their phones. These people were already in treatment for depression, and it was used under their doctor’s care. He plans to do more extensive studies with more patients. Would privacy laws guiding other types of medical records apply here? Can you really keep this type of information private when it is on a cell phone? I have to wonder about the far-reaching implications.

  4. Tracking cookies. Even though I have security software that supposedly catches those things, the advertisements follow me around, as well. And that is exactly why I find the idea of this ‘mental assessment’ software creepy.

    Everything we do online has some sort of public aspect to it – making us vulnerable, and the smartphone technology for this idea seems to use the phone’s GPS system. I’m not certain how the computer software would differ. If you are using your laptop away from home, would it track your location along with your usage? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

    The law has not caught up with the cyber-world. I can only imagine the possible ramifications for people who might choose this type of software for their own personal benefit, to find it being used against them in child custody cases, promotions for employment, or some other context. Legally, it could prove to be a nightmare.

  5. I don’t like it. We all use them, we all benefit from them, so we’re all vulnerable to that big brother kind of invasiveness.
    I was blog-hopping a few months ago, commenting here and there and noticed a Nordstrom ad on a couple sites. I thought, you know, I’d like to have Nordstrom advertise on my blog. I think it fits my reader demographic.
    Then I noticed Herman Miller Aeron chairs being advertsided on a couple sites and I thought – that’s a great ad for bloggers who are often at their computers for hours and could use the ergonomic benefits…
    And then……… (sometimes it takes me a while)…..
    I realized those ads were following ME. Doh! Smack self on forehead.
    I had recently purchased an Aeron chair on-line because of the exact ergonomic issues I needed to nurse. And yes – I have a Nordstrom account and shop there often.
    It freaked me out a little. Okay a lot. And opened my eyes.
    Then I sent an email just a couple days ago to a site that I guest posted for in which I started out by writing, “I’ve attached a 750×736 photo…..” and when I hit “send,” a pop-up box asked,
    “you started this message stating you’ve attached something but there is no attachment. Are you sure you want to send?”
    While I appreciated the help, I was looking around for my mother or someone looking over my shoulder. Should have looked for big brother instead. Totally creeped me out.

  6. I don’t think I want that feature on my phone or computer. I’d rather family and friends determine if something is out of the ordinary. Surely someone would notice, right?

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