New research may lead to a smartphone app that analyzes your speech to monitor your mental health.
It’s based on research from the University of Maryland that shows that certain vocal features change as feelings of depression worsen.
Researchers envision the day when those who are feeling depressed can open the app on their smartphone and simply talk about their day. That information is sent to your therapist, who can use the recording to monitor your depressive symptoms.
The research is part of an interdisciplinary initiative at the university to devise patient-focused mental health monitoring systems. Rather than relying solely on self-reports, the systems could monitor physical and psychological symptoms of mental illness on a regular basis and provide both patients and their mental health providers with feedback about their status.
For the new study, acoustician Carol Espy-Wilson and her colleagues repurposed information collected from a 2007 study from an unaffiliated lab also investigating the relationship between depression and speech patterns.
The earlier study assessed patients’ depression levels each week using the Hamilton Depression Scale and then recorded them speaking freely about their day.
The new study used data from six patients who, over the six-week course of the previous study, registered as depressed some weeks and not depressed other weeks.
The researchers compared the patients’ Hamilton scores with their speech patterns each week, and found a correlation between depression and certain acoustic properties.
When patients’ feelings of depression were worst, their speech tended to be breathier and slower, the researchers discovered. The team also found increases in jitter and shimmer, two measures of acoustic disturbance that measure the frequency and amplitude variation of the sound. Speech high in jitter and shimmer tends to sound hoarse or rough, the researchers explained.
The researchers plan to repeat the study in a larger population, this time comparing speech patterns in individuals with no history of mental illness to those with depression to create an acoustic profile of depression-typical speech.
A phone app could use this information to analyze patients’ speech, identify acoustic signatures of depression and provide feedback and support, the researchers noted.
Espy-Wilson hopes the interactive technology will appeal to teens and young adults, a particularly vulnerable group for mental health problems.
“Their emotions are all over the place during this time, and that’s when they’re really at risk for depression,” she said. “We have to reach out and figure out a way to help kids in that stage.”
Sometimes, patients might not recognize or be willing to admit that they are depressed, she noted. By receiving regular feedback based on acoustical and other measurements, they might learn to self-monitor their mental states and recognize when they should seek help.
The technology could also promote communication between therapists and patients, allowing for continuous, responsive care in addition to regular in-person appointments, the researchers said.
The researchers acknowledge that developing an app requires a larger scope than just the underlying science — a challenge they plan to address.
“We definitely need human factors to develop something that people will use,” said Espy-Wilson. “There’s a lot that has to go into making this a useful tool.”
The study was presented at the 168th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA).
Source: Acoustical Society of America