"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Could smartwatches solve the mental health crisis?

June 13, 2023 – If you need to get a glimpse of the longer term of healthcare, just take a look at your wrist.

As smartwatches and fitness trackers grow to be increasingly popular – some one in five Americans wear one – Scientists are investigating how their data might be used for various health applications.

Studies suggest that smartwatches could detect Infections like COVID-19, in addition to heart problems similar to atrial fibrillation and even Heart attack – not to say Falls, seizuresAnd Parkinson's symptoms. In a small study 2022Heart rate measurements and step counts from fitness trackers were linked to necessary indicators of kidney and liver function in addition to general health.

But in accordance with researchers at Mount Sinai, one potential clinical application deserves much more attention: using this technology to observe people's mental health.

“Few studies have attempted to use wearable devices to assess mental illness,” said Dr. Robert Hirten, clinical director of the Hasso Plattner Institute for Digital Health at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Shepherds and colleagues want to change that. Recent studyThey provide evidence that smartwatches can assess people's psychological state while monitoring mental health markers such as resilience.

“To our knowledge, there are no other studies that have investigated whether psychological resilience can be assessed using wearable devices,” said Hirten.

Why it is important

One oft-touted benefit of wearables in healthcare is their potential to improve access to care. While traditional methods require a doctor's visit or lab work, wearables collect data while the patient goes about their daily life, saving patients time and money and reducing the burden on medical staff.

This is “particularly important” when it comes to mental health, Hirten said, “given the limited resources in the mental health field.” Data show We are facing an amazing shortage of mental health professionals, regardless that the variety of mental illnesses like depression The number of victims is rising. Many people who need help may not be able to afford it or live in remote areas, he said.

“The hope is that wearable devices can one day be used to complement and assist mental health professionals in patient care,” Hirten said.

Not only that, wearables could empower people by giving them valuable insights into their own mental health, says Dr. Zahi Fayad, another study author and director of the BioMedical Engineering and Imaging Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “By measuring mental well-being,” he said, “the watch can inform the user to seek the advice of an expert, provide links to resources, and/or use online or watch-based mental health management tools.”

What the study showed

The researchers analyzed 329 people's smartwatch data over 14 days and compared that data to standard measures of resilience, optimism and emotional support (the support you get from your social ties). These factors are linked to psychological well-being, improved mood and reduced depression, the study says.

Using a form of artificial intelligence called machine learning, researchers were able to assess a person's resilience and well-being based on their heart rate variability, the small time differences between individual heartbeats.

Resilience helps you adapt to change, especially in stressful situations, Hirten said. It's crucial for stress management, an important part of mental health.

“Our study shows that wearables might be used for stress detection and resilience assessment,” said Fayad. “By understanding our stress status, we are able to implement practical tools to administer our mental well-being and strengthen our resilience.”

Why heart rate variability?

Our heart rate variability reflects the activity of the autonomic nervous system, “the a part of the nervous system that controls the body beyond our conscious control,” Hirten said. When you're stressed — in a rush to finish a big work project, arguing with your partner, or in pain — your autonomic nervous system kicks in, triggering changes in heart rate and heart rate variability.

The variation tends to be lower when you are stressed and higher when you are relaxed. Previous studies showsuggesting that people with high heart rate variability may be more resilient.

The study builds on this hypothesis and provides evidence that wearable devices can predict a person's resilience and provide an overall score of their resilience, optimism and emotional support, the researchers said.

The future of smartwatches in healthcare

A big goal of this research is to help mental health treatment providers monitor and care for their patients, Hirten said, but it could also be used to “monitor response to psychological interventions” so providers can more quickly and accurately assess how well a treatment is working and adjust it if necessary.

It could also have implications for the treatment of chronic diseases. “Resilience is an important psychological quality in dealing with chronic diseases,” said Hirten. Ongoing research suggests that resilience could help reduce the negative impacts of chronic diseases and improve quality of life.

However, further research is required to substantiate these results before they might be used for clinical purposes, Hirten said. The researchers plan to conduct studies on other patient groups to further refine the algorithm.