Image source: Fitbit

Fitbit now wants to track the state of your mental health

The Fitbit on your wrist might soon be able to tell if you are depressed. According to a newly filed patent, the activity data generated by such devices could be used in combination with gamification and perhaps voice analysis to assess the state of your mental health.

Devices such as fitness trackers and smartwatches have gained in popularity in recent years. As one of the pioneers in this space, a lot of credit for this goes to Fitbit. The company has a slew of devices under its belt that can track steps, distance, sleep, heart rate, blood oxygen levels, activity and more. Some of them can even take ECG measurements, temperature readings, heart rate variability and stress measurements.

Essential readingBest fitness trackers and health gadgets

According to a recent patent, the San Francisco wearables manufacturer is now looking in a different direction. Newly published USPTO filing 11,191,466 talks about Fitbit devices that are capable of diagnosing mental disorders such as depression.

Mental health disorders are on the rise

The state of your mental health affects the way you think, feel and act. It determines how you handle stress, how you relate to others and can influence your overall outlook on life. You can’t change the state of your mental health overnight, but the first step in the journey is knowing if something is amiss.

Mental illness is on the rise according to the US National Institute of Mental Health. They estimate that around on in five American adults has some sort of mental illness. That’s more than 50 million people!

It should be noted that mental illness is a broad term that encompasses any mental, behavioral or emotional disorder that can interfere with the normal functioning of a person. This includes anxiety disorders, panic disorders, eating disorders, depressive disorders and much more. Part of the problem is that many of these cases go undiagnosed.

The patent

Fitbit’s 24 page patent describes something that works like a mood tracker. The paperwork doesn’t specify, but we are guessing the algorithms could be adopted to the company’s current crop of devices.

You can’t use a blood test or other medical procedure to determine the state of your mental health. But specially designed computer games can be utilized to test your cognitive ability and psychological state.

Fitbit is looking to bring over these types of games, from the PC and smartphone to the wrist. Gamification application would be configured to measure at least one of impulsiveness, reaction time and task switching ability, as shown in the images below..

The idea is that predictive modeling would use this type of gamification data in conjunction with your activity statistics to determine mental states and disorders. Fitbit is looking to calculate a probability score of the likelihood that the user is at risk for a mental health disorder.

Biometric data that is mentioned includes blood oxygen level, body temperature, resting heart rate, heart rate variability metrics, hormones level, sleep quality, exercise and more. Historical information in the form of medical background and existing conditions could also be used for this purpose.

“Identified patterns can be used to update the predictive models, such as via machine learning-trained models, as well as to update individual event predictions. Information about the mental state predictions, and updates thereto, can be surfaced to the user accordingly.” the patent reads.

The patent also mentions other methods of mood tracking. And some of these have the creep factor written all over them!

For example, the content of your smartphone text messages and email data could be analyzed for patterns. Of course, privacy issues mean that this would require users to “opt-in” beforehand. But something like this has the potential to turn into a privacy nightmare.

Another method that is mentioned is vocal data obtained from a “smartphone and/or microphone”. Fitbit could listen in on your conversations – which actually sounds very similar to functionality introduced last year with Amazon Halo.

To remind, this is a fitness band that can can estimate social and emotional wellbeing purely based on the tone of your voice. For this purpose Amazon Halo comes with two microphones built-in, which analyze the pitch, intensity, tempo and rhythm of your speech. Not really surprising the wearable has topped the list of “creepiest” products published earlier this month by Mozilla!

Do we really want our Fitbit listening out on our conversation and even reading our text messages and email?! Probably not. But something that utilizes activity and health data in conjunction with gamification certainly sounds like it could be useful. It would be something that could serve as a general health indicator.

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Ivan Jovin

Ivan has been a tech journalist for over 7 years now, covering all kinds of technology issues. He is the guy who gets to dive deep into the latest wearable tech news.

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