Patterns in use of smartphones are associated with self-reported depressive symptoms, as new research in the Journal of Medical Internet Research states that these symptoms could be detected by tracking the number of minutes used on a phone and daily geographical locations.

In the study, 28 participants aged 19–58 completed a self-reported depression survey (PHQ-9) and were then instructed to carry a mobile phone with a sensor data acquisition app for two weeks. Information on features from GPS data related to depressive symptom severity (circadian movement, normalized entropy, and location variance), along with phone usage features, usage duration, and usage frequency were collected and compared to self-reported depressive symptoms and severity.

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Half of the participants showed no signs of depression in the survey, while the other half reported symptoms in the mild to severe range (PHQ-9 ≥5), with an average PHQ-9 score of 9.64. Circadian movement, normalized entropy, location variance, home stay, phone usage duration, and phone usage frequency were significantly different between the participants with no sign of depression (PHQ-9 <5) and the rest (PHQ-9 ≥5). Those with more depressive symptoms tended to visit fewer locations and were more likely to favor some locations over others; this was particularly due to increased time spent at home. Higher levels of depressive symptom severity were also linked to greater phone usage duration and frequency.

The data collected by smartphones could potentially be useful in clinical practice, as the information gathered could one day be delivered to clinicians to guide treatment for depression, the authors conclude.

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