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Unlocking mental health insights with Apple Watch data & machine learning

Wearable technologies, such as smartwatches, have become an indispensable part of our daily lives, monitoring our physical activity, heart rate, and even sleep patterns. Can these devices, however, assist us in understanding our mental health? According to a new scientific study, they may hold the key to forecasting an individual’s level of psychological resilience.

Psychological resilience is an important component of mental health. It indicates a person’s ability to deal with stress and adversity. Wearable gadgets have the ability to automate these types of mental health assessments. This could ultimately improve stress management and overall psychological well-being in situations where mental health resources are scarce.

Mental health issues account for 13% of the global disease burden. Around one in four people are estimated to experience psychological illness at some point in their lives. The World Health Organization recognizes these disorders as the leading cause of disability worldwide. However, access to mental health resources remains limited and varies based on location and socioeconomic status. The growth of digital technology offers new opportunities to enhance mental health services through wearable devices.

Wearable data, machine learning, and psychological resilience

Researchers examined data from the Warrior Watch Study. This consisted of a group of New York City healthcare workers who wore an Apple Watch for the duration of the research. The purpose of the study was to see if machine learning models applied to physiological measurements obtained from wearable devices might predict an individual’s level of resilience and other mental health qualities.

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The study found that certain advanced computer models, called gradient-boosting machines and extreme gradient-boosting models, performed best in predicting whether a person has high or low resilience. When measuring resilience as a continuous value, the models had a moderate level of accuracy.

The research also examined a combination of positive psychological factors, such as resilience, optimism, and emotional support. The most successful technique for predicting high or low scores in these combined factors was called the oblique random forest technique. Overall, researchers found that these models can help determine a person’s mental well-being with a reasonable degree of accuracy.

This study has important implications. It implies that wearable devices could play an important role in automating mental health assessments. It seems that such devices are able to give pretty accurate data on an individual’s psychological well-being. This data could, in turn, be utilised to create personalised interventions, support systems, and coping strategies.

However, additional research is required to build on this work and validate these findings. The researchers accept the limits of their post-hoc analysis and recommend more research into assessing psychological features from passively gathered wearable data in dedicated studies.

Finally, this research has provided a new understanding of the potential applications of wearable devices in mental health assessments. It paves the road for more accurate, accessible, and personalised mental health care by investigating the relationship between physiological measurements, machine learning, and psychological resiliency.

Read full study in the journal JAMIA Open.

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Marko Maslakovic

Marko founded Gadgets & Wearables in 2014, having worked for more than 15 years in the City of London’s financial district. Since then, he has led the company’s charge to become a leading information source on health and fitness gadgets and wearables.

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