People who suffer from bipolar disorder may soon be equipped with another line of defense in their battle against manic and depressive episodes. Not with more psychologists or prescriptions, but, surprisingly enough, with their smartphones. A new app from the University of Michigan is experimenting with using voice analysis to detect impending mood swings and alert doctors before an episode becomes a crisis, or worse, an attempted suicide.
The app works by listening to a patient’s’ phone calls, and automatically recording, encrypting, and analyzing them to produce data sets. While more than 50 voice variables—including tone, rate, rhythm, and volume—are inspected, encryption guarantees that the actual content of the calls are kept private. If the app finds deviations from an individual’s established vocal norms, it can alert the patient’s doctor, who can then make the necessary interventions.
Researchers say the app could extend beyond bipolar disorder to help patients with schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, and PTSD, proving a true breakthrough in mental health management. As part of an ongoing study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the app will need much more testing before it can be made available to the public.