Advanced Technology Meets Mental Health

By Gaetano Valenza, Antonio Lanatà, Enzo Pasquale Scilingo and Rita Paradiso

NOTE: This is an overview of the entire article, which appeared in the May/June 2014 issue of the online IEEE Pulse magazine.
Click here to read the entire article.

Mental disorders, characterized by impaired emotional and mood balance, are very common in the West. Recent studies have found that millions of people (ages 18-65) have experienced some kind of mental disorder, such as psychotic disorder, major depression, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, social phobia, and somatoform disorder. In 2010, 164.8 million people in Europe were affected by such illnesses.

A major problem in treating mental disorders is the absence of continuous feedback from the patient. The diagnosis of such pathological conditions is based on psychopathological rating scales, so that it is always based on the clinician’s observations. Currently, there are neither specific physiological or biochemical markers that could be taken into account to objectify the diagnosis.

This article suggests that to overcome these clinical drawbacks, technology could play a crucial role in the diagnosis and improvement of patients’ lifestyles. The authors contend that it is possible to use commonly available high-tech devices such as smartphones, personal computers, the Web, and social networks as viable tools for patient monitoring that would provide feedback to clinicians and help achieve good effective balance.

A research project funded by the European Commission – the Personalized Monitoring Systems for Care in Mental Health (PSYCHE), identifies a personalized, pervasive, cost-effective, and multiparametric platform for the long-term acquisition of data gathered from patients with mental disorders. Patients are monitored by means of sensorized clothes and can interact with user-friendly interfaces on smartphones to communicate with clinicians who, in turn, can check the mental status of patients by mean of professional Web-based interfaces.

The general architecture of the PSYCHE system. (Figure used with permission from [1].)

Standard clinical practice is not modified, i.e., questionnaires and interviews continue to be used for diagnosis, but at the same time, an appropriate unobtrusive system continuously collects physiological and behavioral data to be further analyzed and used to support clinical diagnosis.

This project introduces the idea that mood disorders cannot be considered to be a series of independent, standalone states but rather a chronological sequence of mood states that are related to each other. This process will possibly lead to a better comprehension of the psychophysiology of mood disorders and also the possibility of predicting the clinical course of the disorder itself.

1. G. Valenza, M. Nardelli, A. Lanata, C. Gentili, G. Bertschy, R. Paradiso, and E. P. Scilingo. Wearable monitoring for mood recognition in bipolar disorder based on history-dependent long-term heart rate variability analysis. IEEE J. Biomed. Health Inform., [Online].