Predicting Depression with a Smartphone

2015-0806 Smartphone and Depression

Excerpt from article written by Dr. Kevin Campbell | WNCN

According to a new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, your phone may be more accurate than a self-assessment in determining whether or not you suffer from depression.

Depression affects millions of Americans each year. There are 350 million people worldwide with depression in 2015 and an estimated 16 million in the U.S. today. While women are more likely to be diagnosed than men, depression affects both sexes. Symptoms include irritability, loss of interest in favorite activities, anxiety, etc.

My Opinion

Although I agree with Dr. Kevin Campbell that smartphones will revolutionize the way medicine is practiced throughout the world, I do not agree that smartphones can accurately predict depression right now. Since there was no link to the study in Dr. Campbell’s article, I can comment only on what was written in the article and not what was in the study..

According to the article, “Researchers claim that phone data can predict with a stunning 87 percent accuracy whether or not an individual displayed signs of depression.” There is nothing “stunning” about an 87% success rate? Would you fly on an airline that has a well established track record of not crashing during only 87% of their flights? How would you feel if the brakes in your vehicle were reliable only 87% of the time you used them? Would you take any medicine if there was only an 87% chance you would live past the first dose?

The article also mentioned that when the researchers “examined data regarding those who used their phones the most (browsing the Web, playing games and texting) without actually taking or making calls,” the smartphone was able to predict who would fall into the at-risk category with a 74 percent rate of accuracy. If we were not happy with an 87% success rate, I am certain a 74% success rate will not convince us the smartphone technology is good enough for depression diagnoses at this time.

Another point in the article provided further evidence the smartphone, or at least the application they used to collect data, is not a viable source of data for diagnoses. According to the article “spending a lot of time at home is a symptom of depression, and secondly, it turns out that the more time you spend using your phone, the more likely it is you are depressed.” The article seems to indicate if you are at home you are depressed and if you use your phone you are depressed. Does that mean if I don’t work or I work from home, I am depressed? Would the study label me as depressed because I frequently check the time, calendar, or to-do list on my phone? If I don’t own a television and I watch the news, movies, and television shows over my phone. Am I depressed?

To get in touch with Dr. Campbell, you can head to his website, Facebook page or message him on Twitter.


Thanks to the Journal of Medical Internet Research for publishing the study; Dr, Kevin Campbell for writing the article; WNCN for committing its resources to publishing the article; Google for helping me find the article; and all the people who, directly or indirectly, made it possible to include the picture and text in this post.




  1. One of the last points of the article is a very important one:

    We must take the study with a grain of salt—it was a small sample size and may have also been biased by the fact that the participants were recruited via an online method.

  2. Hi Scott – this may be a duplicate message, but I don’t remember if I sent it earlier. If I remember right, you have the good fortune to be personally unfamiliar with depression. From my personal experience only, gained from dealing with major depression about once every decade Since my teens, depression is not at all easy to self-diagnose. I suspect I’m not alone in trying hard to pretend it was something else, that I was fine. Even at less than 100% accuracy an objective smartphone app would help counter that denial, and would be more tolerable than hearing repeated pleas from a spouse or friend or coworker to see a psychologist. I’d buy the app.

    1. Howard, I searched your most recent comments and I did not see any other comments from you regarding the post “Predicting Depression with a Smartphone.”

      You are correct. I have not been diagnosed with depression, I do not feel depressed, but many of the people I interact with are depressed. You are definitely not alone. I understand your point about the smartphone use in overcoming denial, even though the smartphone diagnosis may not be 100% accurate. I had not considered this angle. Thank you.

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