This Former Google Scientist Wants to Use Your Phone to Check If You’re Depressed

An example of how devices could benefit your well-being.

In the age of big data, it’s normal to feel a bit unsettled by just how much information technology companies have on us. Here’s one instance where that data could be used for good though: Tom Insel, formerly at Google and prior to that, the director of the National Institutes of Mental Health, just started a company that aims to use your smartphone to spot signs of mental illness and connect you with help, Nature reports.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

The company is called Mindstrong and according to Nature, it’ll use digital phenotyping to suss out signs of mental illness. That could be done by analyzing your word choices, location changes, misspellings, how you speak when you use voice assistants like Siri, or how long you take between keystrokes. If the company detects that you may be struggling, it could connect you with resources to intervene and offer assistance.

Insel, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist who stepped down from the NIMH in November 2015, was most recently at Google’s Verily overseeing a mental health program with similar goals of spotting and addressing mental health issues via technology. He left Google on May 5.

“I love the idea of rethinking how we measure human behaviour and coming up with entirely new behavioural features,” Insel told Nature. He added that creating new ways of addressing mental health issues is imperative because “we’re not doing very well either on the diagnostic or therapeutic side.”

According to the most recent data from the National Institutes of Mental Health, nearly 18 percent of American adults experienced some form of mental illness in 2015, and the World Health Organization recently estimated that 300 million around the world are currently living with depression. Smartphones are ubiquitous in our modern world, and applications that use them as a tool could be smart solutions to such a widespread problem.

Read more on Nature.