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How can a smartphone be used to treat mental illness?

Right now, thousands of Americans are struggling with serious mental illnesses that make it very difficult, if not impossible, to function on a day-to-day basis, let alone hold a full-time job.

One such mental illness that can prove debilitating to many people is bipolar disorder, which the National Alliance on Mental Illness defines as "a chronic illness with recurring episodes of mania and depression that can last from one day to months."

Over the years, researchers have made remarkable strides in both treating and learning more about bipolar disorder. For instance, studies have shown that those people suffering from bipolar disorder typically show fluctuations in their speech patterns when on the cusp of either a manic episode or a depressive episode.

Specifically, professionals have learned that people experiencing a manic episode are prone to speaking quickly and not staying on one topic for very long. Conversely, they've learned that people experiencing a depressive episode often evidence slow speech patterns punctuated by long pauses.

In a rather fascinating turn of events, researchers at the University of Michigan are now using this knowledge about bipolar disorder and speech patterns to develop a smartphone app, which they say could potentially help identify when a person is about to enter a manic or depressive episode.

The app, which would be issued to patients by their treating psychiatrists, is designed to record a person's speech whenever they use their phone. This recorded speech would then be submitted to a computer located in the psychiatrist's office that would proceed to analyze its inflection, energy, speed and other properties.

If a potential problem was detected, it would enable a psychiatrist to adjust the person's medication, thereby avoiding a full-blown episode.

The researchers are currently in the process of testing the app with 12-15 volunteers. Thus far, they have reported promising results, but noted that it appears to work slightly better at diagnosing mania than depression.

Stay tuned for updates ...

Consider speaking with an experienced and dedicated attorney if you would like to learn more about securing Social Security Disability benefits for mental conditions.

Source: National Public Radio, "Phone app might predict manic episodes in bipolar disorder," Joe Palca, May 31, 2014

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