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StudentLife App Tracks Mental Health, Behavior, & Performance

Many smartphone apps have been developed to help us track our physical health. There are apps such as calorie counters, step-trackers, and ones that help us lose weight. These apps can be highly beneficial for maintaining optimal physical health. Although physical health is important, many people neglect keeping track of their mental health. Now there is a new app for smartphones that revolutionize mental health maintenance.

An app developed by researchers at Dartmouth University called “StudentLife” is able to detect the mental health of students by analyzing their level of happiness, depression, stress, and loneliness. It also is able to determine how these mental health factors can influence behavior and performance in academics. Researchers believe that this app not only could be beneficial for students, it may be beneficial for everyone, including individuals working full-time jobs or those trying to overcome post-college depression.

StudentLife: A Mental Health app

The StudentLife app was developed to make mental health assessments easier than having to frequently visit a professional. Although the app does not attempt to replace psychological assessments, it could be of benefit to help people understand how to maintain optimal mental health. The app paints a relatively clear picture of factors that could be contributing to feelings of stress and/or depression that you experience.

A Computer Science professor from Dartmouth University named Andrew Campbell is came up with the idea for the app. His initial goal was to use the app to understand how a person’s mental health affects their academic performance. In order to provide consistent results, Campbell incorporated “passive” and “automatic” sensor data that can be collected by the app to establish consistency in reports.

How the StudentLife app works…

The app was built on an Android platform and was tested on 48 Dartmouth students over the course of 10-weeks to determine its accuracy. It took a look at a variety of factors including: mental health (depression, loneliness, stress), academic performance (grades / GPA), as well as behavior (stress, studying, sleep, exercise). The results from the 10-week testing phase demonstrated that there were correlations between mental health, academic performance, and student behavior.

  1. Mental Health
    • Depression
    • Loneliness
    • Stress
  2. Performance
    • Cumulative GPA
    • Individual test scores
    • Semester GPA
  3. Behavior
    • Physical activity
    • Socialization
    • Sleep

It specifically measured behaviors such as: sleep duration, physical activity / movement, conversations (number and length), and self-reported moods. It then tracked academic performance by noting test grades, semester GPA, as well as cumulative GPA. To interpret the results, researchers gave students mental health surveys before and after the 10-week tracking period. Developer Andrew Campbell noted that the app did a good job at interpreting students’ behaviors and their GPA.

Study Results: What the StudentLife app discovered

There were a variety of correlations that were found between mood, sleep patterns, grades, and amount of socialization. Since this was a smaller study, it is difficult to assess the accuracy of these findings. However, as larger scale studies are conducted, we should better understand the accuracy of these results.

  • Conversations: The more conversations a person had with others, the more likely they were to have better grades.
  • Depression: Students who had less conversations with others and/or who got less sleep tend to be more depressed. Students who have a lot of conversations and get sufficient sleep tend to be less prone to stress and feelings of depression. Students who hang out with other students are less likely to be depressed (and lonely).
  • Grades (GPA): Students who had better GPAs were found to be less physically active, were less mobile indoors at night, and were usually around more people.
  • Loneliness: Students who were physically active were less likely to be lonely.  Additionally the less conversations a person has with others, the more likely they were to feel lonely.
  • Physical activity: People who got sufficient physical activity were less likely to feel lonely than those who remained sedentary. However, those who got high GPAs were found to exhibit less physical activity than usual.
  • Socialization: Students who were more social (measured by number of conversations) had better GPAs than those who were less talkative. Additionally students who are around other students more often exhibit less feelings of depression.
  • Sleep: Individuals who got less sleep were found to be more depressed than those who got sufficient sleep.

How the StudentLife app could be beneficial…

Not only could this app be beneficial for students with busy schedules, but it could also help individuals that work full time job or those with mental illnesses. It may be able to help a person understand how various behaviors can contribute to feelings of depression and loneliness, while others can contribute to feeling happier and more connected.

  • Behavioral tracking: Behavior plays a huge role in determining our mental health. Certain behaviors clearly were shown to reduce feelings of loneliness and depression in the study. If we become more aware that we would benefit from increased exercise or more sleep, we may make a conscious effort to change.
  • Consensus data: This app or similar apps in the future could be used to gather consensus data on a large-scale basis without collecting personal data. In other words, data collected from thousands or hundreds-of-thousands of people using the app could help researchers understand the biggest contributing factors to depression and poor performance in school or at work.
  • Mood tracking: There are already several apps that can track mood based on self-reports, but this one takes into account more comprehensive factors. It may be able to not only track mood, but determine what factors may be causing you to feel depressed or stressed.
  • Performance tracking: Knowing how well you performed and what behaviors and moods you were in when you performed well vs. when you performed poorly could be very helpful. If you are depressed and realize that feeling depressed makes you get worse grades, you may be more proactive in treating your depression.
  • Stressors: Understanding what is causing us to be stressed out could help improve our mental health. If we can avoid certain stressors or plan our schedule better so that we don’t get as stressed, this could be very beneficial.

Accuracy / privacy concerns:  Currently the only major concerns for the app are privacy as well as inaccuracy. Since the app collects personal data, some people may not like that it knows the ins and outs of their daily life. Additionally if it can gather personal information it may serve as an invasion of privacy. The app would likely need to collect data on an anonymous basis for certain individuals to actually give it a shot. Another concern is whether the reports from the app will be as accurate as claims.

Final thoughts on the StudentLife app

This app could prove to be revolutionary in understanding how our own behaviors can influence our mood and performance. Additionally the app may be able to provide additional insight for clinicians if a student complains of poor grades or performance. In many cases, fixing the problem of feeling depressed or stressed may be as simple as adjusting your schedule to get more sleep per night.

This app is currently one-of-a-kind and includes a sensing system to automatically detect human behavior. The mood tracking aspect may also encourage more people to visit a doctor if they become depressed, isolated, and lonely. It is thought that the StudentLife app will one day be of significant benefit to college students for assessing their mental health around campus.

Before it hits the app market though, Dartmouth researchers are going to make several adjustments to the app including the addition of behavioral feedback for struggling or depressed students.  The app’s goal is to help students establish a balance between academic studies, work schedule, and socialization for an optimal college experience.

  • Source: http://sensorlab.cs.dartmouth.edu/people.html

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