Culture

Researchers will use Apple Watch to track signs of depression

The study is a collaboration between UCLA and Apple.

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Could digital health provide experts the clues to better understanding depression? It's a question that UCLA and Apple are pursuing together in their collective research to derive more information about depression in Apple Watch users.

UCLA and Apple will carry out a three-year observation starting in the first week of August to study depression. Experts intend to monitor sleeping patterns, cardiac rate, the amount of physical activity users exert (or don't), and their schedules using iPhone and Apple Watch data, plus Beddit's sleep tracker.

As it stands, Apple Watch has already helped give users more insight into cardiac problems (though that comes with a major caveat), track their menstrual cycles, notify users if their heartbeat is irregular, spot higher levels of stress, alert you to wash your hands properly, and even notify the wearer if their volume is too high and potentially dangerous for their hearing. Similarly, the new study could help deliver the public more quantifiable data on mental health.

"Current approaches to treating depression rely almost entirely on the subjective recollections of depression sufferers," director of UCLA's Depression Grand Challenge and psychiatry professor Nelson Freimer stated in a press release. "This is an important step for obtaining objective and precise measurements that guide both diagnosis and treatment."

Neuroscience and wearables — This isn't the first time that experts have combined the forces of neuroscience and wearable tech. In the past, British mHealth researchers relied on Apple Watch to understand depression in users. The idea was to collect patient data and make decisions based on those insights, including diagnosis, tracking, and treatment. It certainly sounds like it could pack major benefits, including the unmistakable aspect that wearable data is far more detailed, complex, and current than periodic surveys and questionnaires.

In the past, Apple has conducted its own share of health studies. For this particular one, UCLA and Apple will ask its participants to download a research app. The pilot phase of the study will monitor 150 participants while the main phases for the three-year research will bring in 3,000 participants. Researchers have assured those involved that their information will be de-identified to protect their privacy. If all goes well in the next three years, UCLA and Apple could provide us a massive, detailed, and critical glimpse into mental wellbeing.