Wednesday 3 May 2023

Wearables can assess mental health, boost access to care


We all know that wearable devices can collect health-related data: the number of steps taken, floors climbed, calories burned, sleep time, and heart rate, to name but a few. But what about evaluating a person’s mental health? A new study has found that wearables can do that, too.

Motion sensors in wearables worn or embedded in clothing take a snapshot of a person’s day-to-day activities and sync them to mobile devices or computers. Advances in mobile networks, high-speed data transfer and miniaturized microprocessors have helped to make the wearable device an indispensable part of everyday life for many.

Resilience is a person’s ability to ‘bounce back’ or recover quickly from difficulties. It’s what gives people the emotional fortitude to cope with trauma, adversity and hardship and maintain good mental health. In 2019, one in every eight – 970 million – people worldwide were living with a mental disorder.

Researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York applied machine learning models to the data passively collected by wearables like the Apple Watch to gauge a person’s resilience and mental well-being. To their knowledge, it's the first study to do so.

“Wearables provide a means to continually collect information about an individual’s physical state,” said Robert Hirten, lead author of the study. “Our results provide insight into the feasibility of assessing psychological characteristics from passively collected data.”

Not everyone has access to important mental health services, which is why, the researchers say, their study is so important.

“There are wide disparities in access across geography and socioeconomic status, and the need for in-person assessment or the completion of validated mental health surveys is further limiting,” said Zahi Fayad, one of the study’s co-authors. “A better understanding of who is at psychological risk and an improved means of tracking the impact of psychological interventions is needed. The growth of digital technology presents an opportunity to improve access to mental health services for all people.”

The researchers used data collected during their Warrior Watch Study, designed to help understand the effects of the pandemic on the psychological well-being of hospital staff. The data set comprised 329 healthcare workers enrolled at seven hospitals in New York City.

Subjects wore an Apple Watch Series 4 or 5 during the study, which measured heart rate variability (the time between heartbeats) and resting heart rate. Heart rate variability represents the body’s physical response to stress. Baseline surveys were conducted to assess resilience, optimism, and the degree of emotional support provided by others.

Using machine learning algorithms to analyze the data, the researchers found that they could determine a person’s resilience and a combination of resilience, optimism and emotional support based on heart rate variability.

Despite the Warrior Watch Study not being designed to evaluate resilience specifically, the researchers say that their findings demonstrate the need for further studies assessing psychological well-being based on passively collected wearable data.

“We hope that this approach will enable us to bring psychological assessment and care to a larger population, who may not have access at this time,” said Micol Zweig, co-author of the study. “We also intend to evaluate this technique in other patient populations to further refine the algorithm and improve its applicability.”

The researchers plan to continue their research, using wearables data to investigate a range of physical and psychological disorders.

The study was published in the journal JAMIA Open.

Source: Mount Sinai

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