How Can Your Smartphone Tell If You Have Bipolar Disorder?

Apr 20, 2022
4 min read

Haven't we all heard the phrase "our guardian angel is always looking over us" when we were kids? We've heard it quite a few times since then. Although some people may be indifferent about this phrase, technology has proven to be our 'guardian angel' on numerous occasions.

One of the most recent examples is that of our smartphones, which can now be trained to detect the bipolar disorder in people using them. Sudden changes in mood or experiencing the commonly used term 'mood swings' can indicate bipolar disorder. Smartphones are now equipped with sensors to detect these indicators.

How can a device that you hold in the palm of your hand help detect bipolar disorder? That's what we will be discussing in this blog. Let's begin.

A Basic Understanding of Bipolar Disorder and its Diagnosis

An extreme mood fluctuation condition characterized by periods ranging from depressed lows to manic euphoria.

Although the specific origin of bipolar disease is unknown, genetics, environment, and changes in brain structure and chemistry may all have a role.

A doctor generally performs a medical examination, inquires about your problems, and requests blood tests to see whether another disease, such as hypothyroidism, is causing your symptoms. A psychological assessment is performed if the doctor cannot uncover an underlying explanation for your symptoms.

Treatment normally lasts a lifetime and usually consists of a mix of medicines and therapy.

Mechanism Behind Detection of Bipolar Disorder through Smartphones

Bipolar disorder is essentially a mental illness that causes mood fluctuations ranging from great happiness to extreme depression. Individuals experience intense high points and hyperactivity on one end of the range, while feeling terrifyingly depressed and sluggish on the other. These emotions can shift swiftly, persist for weeks or months, and be interrupted by months or even years.

Smartphone sensors may correctly diagnose bipolar illness behaviour patterns, according to Venet Osmani of the Center for Research and Telecommunication Experimentation for Networked Communities (CREATE-NET) in Trento, Italy.

What Are The Common Symptoms That Smartphones Can Detect?

Individuals with bipolar disorder frequently exhibit well-known behaviour patterns that are characteristic of their illness.

Hyperactivity, which may be assessed with an accelerometer and a Global Positioning System (GPS) device, fast speech, that can be tracked using speech evaluation, and numerous interactions, that can be monitored with call logs, are all common characteristics of the manic phase.

It is extremely tough to detect these emotional shifts in time to begin therapy. Since there are no solid biomarkers for this disorder, individuals are often offered psychological exams to assess their mental status. Correct diagnosis invariably occurs after the real shifts in mood have occurred.

Patients with bipolar disorder typically encounter well-known behaviour patterns that are characteristic of their illness. Hyperactivity, which can be assessed with an accelerometer and a GPS device, fast speech that can be tracked with speech processing, and numerous interactions that could be monitored with call records, are all common characteristics of the manic episode.

That is what current technology taps into. Studies conducted by the University of Michigan now have led to researchers developing PRIORI, an Android smartphone app that can detect if someone is suffering a bipolar attack.

PRIORI - An App To Predict Bipolar Disorder Mood Swings

As per a certain study backed by the National Institute of Mental Health and aided by the Prechter Bipolar Research Fund at the University of Michigan Depression Center, a cluster of 60 American volunteer sufferers is already showing remarkable results, despite the fact that the app still needs more laboratory tests before its rollout.

PRIORI is programmed to recognize tiny changes in mood and monitor a person's voice over time.

Individuals who wish to use this app may be somewhat concerned about their privacy, but the study team claims that just the participant's part of the discussion is documented. The app will merely notify the person's medical staff of any early indicators of a mood fluctuation.

"Such pilot research findings provide provisional evidence of theory that by analyzing broad characteristic properties of speech, we could indeed detect mood swings in standard phone calls without invading the privacy of those interactions," said Zahi Karam, a member of the Michigan team, at the International Conference on Acoustics, Speech, and Signal Processing in Italy.

This method might potentially benefit patients with other diseases, including schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. This information was uncovered by the study team, which includes computer scientists Karam and Emily Mower Provost, as well as doctor Melvin McInnis.

Why are Smartphones An Ideal Way to Detect Bipolar Disorder?

All of these behaviours are significantly altered in individuals in the depressed stage of this illness.

As a result, a smartphone is an excellent tool for tracking these symptoms. In 2012 and 2013, Osmani supplied smartphones to 12 bipolar illness patients and tracked their activities for 12 weeks. Throughout this period, each patient attended the clinic at three-week intervals to have his or her mental state assessed using traditional procedures. This provided a baseline against which the statistics from the smartphone could be evaluated.

Two findings piqued Osmani's curiosity. The first was the capacity to identify mood changes, and the second was the accuracy with which this could be done - the frequency by which the data provided false alarms.

The outcomes from this study are really encouraging. The combination of activity and location data provided an excellent indicator of the patient's mood, but it also properly predicted a change in mood 94% of the time. Integrating this with a telephone conversation analysis boosted the predicted accuracy to over 97 percent. "Practically all changes were recognized," Osmani adds, "with almost zero false reports."


As technology advances, smartphones are becoming quite life-saving devices for people across the globe. The key in the future will be to develop smartphone systems that operate in the background, monitoring a person's health without their knowledge. Experts agree that it's a difficult task, but the opportunity exists given our close relationship with our phones.