AI Treating Depression: Using your smart tech to personalize treatment

The number of adults suffering from depression has significantly increased since the pandemic. Since anti-depressants only work for a portion of participants, researchers are now working on a more personalized approach.

Studies find that more than one in five U.S. adults suffered with depression during the last few years. This number is over three times higher than before the pandemic.

Diagnosis and treatment for depression are often the same for everyone — therapy and anti-depressants are usually prescribed. But research shows anti-depressants work for only 30% of patients. That’s why researchers are working on a more personalized approach.

Robert Mason recalls what it was like being depressed.

“For me, it was having no energy, no motivation,” Mason said.

Isolation from the pandemic is just one trigger for depression. Others include genetics, lifestyle, lack of sleep or exercise, and poor diet.

Neuroscientists are using smartphones to create a more personalized approach to treat depression.

“We can get to know more about how a person is going about their daily lives,” said Jyoti Mishra, a neuroscientist at the University of California San Diego.

Participants check in on an app three to four times a day for one month. Through their smartwatch, researchers track sleep patterns, activity levels, diet, and aspects related to stress such as heart rate, stress, brain activity, and breathing.

“We would see things like, how they slept, whether it was consistently or inconsistently, determining their depression. And for the very next person, we would see aspects of how active they were,” Mishra said.

The insight helps doctors predict what triggers depression for each person and then get to the root of their problem.

“If I were to observe that a person’s depression is determined by their sleep, then, in the next phase, what we’re going to do is provide that person evidence-based sleep treatment, and another person might get evidence-based physical activity training,” Mishra said.

Researchers believe their findings could have broader implications than depression, and that anyone looking for greater well-being could benefit from information quantified from their own data.