Michigan State University researchers are developing smartphone technology to better identify, track, and manage depression symptoms.
iSee illustration
Illustration by James Yang

Researchers at Michigan State University in East Lansing are working on technology that can be used by hospitals and behavioral clinics to monitor patient behavior and collect data in order to help treat people with depression and other conditions, such as bipolar disorder and dementia, across the mental health spectrum. They believe this groundbreaking technology also can be adapted to help college students suffering from depression, whether on or off campus.

The app, named iSee, uses smartphone GPS sensors and wristbands to continuously monitor individual behavior, ranging from sleep habits to physical movement and social interactions, to create a detailed picture of one’s well-being for counseling center clinician use and reference.

Looking to enhance counseling services via this smartphone technology, researchers and principal investigators at MSU are developing an app capable of measuring the severity of a student’s depressive indicators.

Mi Zhang, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and the leader of the project, believes iSee has the potential to substantially improve college counseling center performance metrics when the app is put into full operation in the coming months. “Our technology will allow college counseling centers to be more accurately informed with the severity of each student,” Zhang says.

Raw individualized behavioral data collected courtesy of iSee will be compiled into analytic algorithm readouts that are sent over the cloud to automated counseling center dashboards meant to aid clinicians in making initial depression symptom assessments and fast-tracking appointments for those in urgent need.

In fact, recent data collected on college students across the nation revealed that nearly 20 percent self-reported being affected by anxiety and depression to some degree.

Funded by a $1 million National Science Foundation grant, iSee also is being programmed to incorporate unique aspects of machine learning with a prompt feature that will urge users to exercise self-care by suggesting guided meditation exercises during the day and recommending soothing musical selections to listen to at night.

“The iSee project is an extremely innovative approach to using technology in the context of mental health treatment, and it promises to significantly augment the ways in which university counseling centers engage with our students,” says Scott Becker, director of the Michigan State University Counseling Center, who collaborated on the project.

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