Apple is reportedly working on mental health monitoring using iPhone data

Apple is reportedly working on ways to help detect and diagnose conditions such as depression, anxiety and cognitive decline using an iPhone. Researchers hope that analysis of data such as mobility, sleep patterns and how people type could spot behaviors associated with those conditions, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Other measurements could include facial expression analysis and heart and respiration rates. All of the processing would take place on the device, with no data sent to Apple servers.

The company is working on research projects that could lead to the development of these features. The University of California, Los Angeles, is studying stress, anxiety and depression, with Apple Watch and iPhone data for 3,000 volunteers being tracked in a study that starts this year. A pilot phase that began in 2020 recorded data from 150 participants.

Researchers will compare data captured from iPhone and Watch sensors with questionnaires participants fill out about how they feel, according to the report. They’re also said to be measuring the level of the stress hormone cortisol in participants’ hair follicles. Apple and UCLA announced the three-year study in August 2020.

Another research project is underway that may factor into this Apple project. The company and pharmaceutical firm Biogen said in January they’re working on a two-year study to monitor cognitive function and perhaps spot mild cognitive impairment, which has the potential to develop into Alzheimer’s. The plan is to track around 20,000 participants, around half of whom have high risk of cognitive impairment.

© David Imel for Engadget iPhone 13

If data from the studies lines up with symptoms of depression or anxiety, Apple could use it to create a feature that warns users if it sees signs of a mental health condition. The iPhone could prompt users to seek care, which could be important as early detection can improve quality of life in the long run.

Apple and its partners are in the early stages of this work, so it’ll likely be a few years at least before the company adds mental health monitoring features to the iPhone. There’s no guarantee the research will lead to such features at all.

Some previous studies have indicated people with certain conditions use devices differently than other folks. It’s not yet clear whether developers can build algorithms that can detect mental health conditions reliably and accurately.

Still, there’s no smoke without fire. Health has been a growing focus for Apple over the past few years, so there’s a chance features based on this research will eventually emerge.

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