Monday, November 2, 2015

Firm hires expert who believes wearables may one day track our mental health

Google could soon know if you're depressed... or even suicidal:

  • Former director of National Institute of Mental Health has joined Google
  • Dr Thomas Insel said details of his new job are 'still under wraps'
  • But he did discuss the idea of sensors that can track moods and language
  • They could reveal signs of anxiety, psychosis and help tackle suicide rates
Google Life Sciences recently hired leading mental health expert Dr Thomas Insel (pictured). He envisages sensors that will one day monitor mood
Google Life Sciences recently hired leading mental health expert Dr Thomas Insel (pictured).  He envisages sensors that will one day monitor mood. Wearables can already track your steps, sleep and heart rate but in the future they could also be used to monitor your mood.  Dr Thomas Insel and in a recent interview he discussed plans for sensors 'that give you very objective measures of your behavior.'

These sensors could analyse a person's language for early signs of psychosis, monitor levels of anxiety, or encourage wearers to take clinical tests in order to measure mental health.

Dr Insel was previously director of the National Institute for Mental Health for 13 years. Speaking at Chicago Ideas Week, he said: 'Technology can have greater impact on mental health care than on the care for heart disease, diabetes, cancer or other diseases. 
'It could transform this area in the next five years.'

He made particular reference to the fact that there has been no reduction in mortality in terms of suicide because America's system for treating mental illness is 'dysfunctional'.      Dr Insel sees tech as the answer to 'detecting, diagnosing, and treating' such mental illness.

During the interview he praised the work of companies including Big White Wall, which is a community that lets people post anonymously about how they're feeling and take clinical tests online.   

He admitted that his new job was still under wraps, and even he wasn't sure what he would be doing but believes the firm's access to data could be crucial for developing new research on mental health 

 Other organisations have also seen the benefit technology can have on a person's mental health. Last year, psychologists led by University College London  found that receiving therapy in a virtual reality world using a computer generated image of a person (pictured) reduces self-criticism and boosts self-compassion


Last year, an international team of psychologists led by University College London developed a a self-to-self situation using avatars and computer game technology. 
It was designed to cure self-criticism and involved using virtual reality so people could experience the world through a life-size virtual version of themselves.
Each was trained to show compassion towards a distressed virtual child while in their adult virtual body and as they talked to the crying child, it appeared to listen and respond positively to the compassion.
Some participants saw themselves being compassionate through the eyes of the virtual child, while others saw a third person view of the scenario.
The experts found that the self-to-self situation was the most effective and revealed how virtual reality and avatars could be used to treat depression and feelings of insecurity.
It was designed to cure self-criticism and