apple watch wearable smartwatch

Smartwatches used to track mental wellbeing of their wearers

Image credit: Dreamstime

Wearable devices could be used to determine the psychological wellbeing of their users through data collection and AI, a study claims.

The findings suggests that devices such as smartwatches could be used to monitor and assess psychological states remotely without requiring the completion of mental health questionnaires.

Resilience, or an individual’s ability to overcome difficulty, is an important stress mitigator that reduces morbidity and improves the management of chronic diseases.

“Wearables provide a means to continually collect information about an individual’s physical state. Our results provide insight into the feasibility of assessing psychological characteristics from this passively collected data,” said first author Robert P Hirten, a clinical director at the Hasso Plattner Institute in Germany.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to evaluate whether resilience, a key mental health feature, can be evaluated from devices such as the Apple Watch.”

Mental health disorders are common, accounting for 13 per cent of the burden of global disease, with a quarter of the population at some point experiencing psychological illness. Yet we have limited resources for their evaluation, say the researchers.

“There are wide disparities in access across geography and socioeconomic status, and the need for in-person assessment or the completion of validated mental health surveys is further limiting,” said senior author Zahi Fayad.

“A better understanding of who is at psychological risk and an improved means of tracking the impact of psychological interventions is needed. The growth of digital technology presents an opportunity to improve access to mental health services for all people.”

To determine if machine-learning models could be trained to distinguish an individual’s degree of resilience and psychological well-being using the data from wearable devices, the researchers analysed data from another study. The data set comprised 329 healthcare workers enrolled at seven hospitals in New York City.

Subjects wore an Apple Watch Series 4 or 5 for the duration of their participation, measuring heart rate variability and resting heart rate throughout the follow-up period.

Surveys were collected measuring resilience, optimism and emotional support at baseline. The metrics collected were found to be predictive in identifying resilience or well-being states.

“We hope that this approach will enable us to bring psychological assessment and care to a larger population, who may not have access at this time,” said Micol Zweig, co-author of the paper. “We also intend to evaluate this technique in other patient populations to further refine the algorithm and improve its applicability.”

The research team plans to continue using wearable data to observe a range of physical and psychological disorders and diseases. They added that more advanced analytical tools could allow the data collected from these devices to identify patterns associated with specific mental or physical diseases.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles