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(Credit: Antonio Guillem/iStockphoto)

The developer behind Mindstrong Health app (iOS, Android) wanted to provide better brain healthcare, so they started with the common factor between most people: a smartphone.

Three doctors specializing in neuroscience, medicine, and AI respectively created Mindstrong to help better detect depression symptoms based on how a person uses their smartphone.

The creators use a process called "digital phenotyping" to make sense of the information gathered from smartphone use. These "digital biomarkers" can provide insight into how a person feels, thinks, and behaves.

By monitoring how a user types, taps, swipes, and scrolls on their device, scientists can correlate the interactions back to cognition and emotional health. The data is encrypted and analyzed through machine learning, creating results for the patient and their doctor.

SEE: New study says mental health apps might be misdiagnosing disorders

The Mindstrong Health app stands apart from other mental health apps because it focuses on "how" you use your phone, not "what" you do. If the app's methodology and science are accurate, the program can spot signs of depression, anxiety, a relapse into depression, memory problems, and other mental health disorders.

Mindstrong founder Paul Dagum thought that having an app running in the background would be a less obtrusive way to collect information.

"There were signals in there that were measuring, correlating --- predicting, in fact, not just correlating with -- the neurocognitive function measures that the neuropsychologist had taken," Dagum said of the app's initial tests.

The app can spot memory problems by tracking how fast you type on your smartphone, errors you make, how frequently you delete a character, and how fast you scroll down a contacts list. The program takes into account how quickly you swap between other apps and if you include punctuation in a sentence.

The app provides a chart of your physical smartphone activity (taps, swipes, and so on) and shows how they measure against cognitive signs of mood disorders and other emotions. You can also open a chat with a clinician.

The app developers are also working on predicting disorders a user might have in the future like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They're also working on finding "digital markers" for auditory hallucinations that people with schizophrenia sometimes have.

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The app might seem like a massive invasion, but the creators said that everything is private and they don't take any information they don't need. No content is captured from your smartphone (like what you're looking at) and voice calls, passwords, and location services aren't needed either.

The app is still fairly new but has a number of negative reviews from downloaders. Some users are questioning why Mindstrong asks for insurance information. Others report various bugs and trouble logging in.

Mindstrong told Download.com that the app is referral-only, not direct-to-consumer

"At present, Mindstrong is working with a select number of healthcare partners, and users can only use it if they've received an invitation from their healthcare provider. This may explain some of the reviews, as the app won't work without the referral," the company said.

Mindstrong is free to download, but in the app's HIPPA Notice of Privacy Practice, it says that there is payment involved if you want the program to send you information, products, or services.

Updated 10/22/2018, 9:54 a.m. : This article originally stated the Mindstrong could detect markers for suicidal tendencies in its users. The app does not have those abilities according to the company.

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(Credit: Screenshot by Download.com)


Takeaways

  1. The Mindstrong Health app claims to detect markers of depression and other mental disorders based on how you physically interact with your smartphone.
  2. The app says that it tracks things like how fast you type, how many characters you delete, or how fast you scroll through a contact list to draw conclusions about memory problems.

Also see

Shelby is an Associate Writer for CNET's Download.com. She served as Editor in Chief for the Louisville Cardinal newspaper at the University of Louisville. She interned as Creative Non-Fiction Editor for Miracle Monocle literary magazine. Her work appears in Glass Mountain Magazine, Bookends Review, Soundings East, and on Louisville.com. Her cat, Puck, is the best cat ever.