Mental Health, Tech

Your iPhone may soon be able to detect Depression

We’re not sure if this is really necessary.

words by: Sahar Khraibani
Oct 30, 2021

Apple is developing iPhone features to help detect depression and cognitive decline. The company is collaborating with UCLA and Biogen to examine if sensitive data such as facial expressions and typing metrics can indicate mental health issues. If that feels a little bit weird to you, don’t worry… I am weirded out too.


How will it work?

According to The Wall Street Journal, Apple is working on a new iPhone function that may determine if a user is depressed or suffering from depression. It seems that smartphones can do almost anything these days: they can be used as contraception, therapists, among many, many other things. And now, they may be able to diagnose you with depression, thanks to Apple. Sensory data — such as movement, sleep patterns, physical activity, typing behavior, and more – would be used to detect digital signals linked to various mental health and neurological conditions.


Who’s making this?

This technology is being developed in collaboration with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the pharmaceutical business Biogen. Stress, anxiety, and depression are now being researched at UCLA, whereas mild cognitive impairment is being researched at Biogen.


UCLA is tracking Apple Watch and iPhone data from a sample of around 3,000 participants in its study, which began last year. Researchers track information from the phone’s camera, keypad, and audio sensors, as well as movement and sleep patterns. Facial expressions, how they speak, the frequency of their walks, sleep habits, heart and respiration rates, and the pace and substance of their typing could all be used to infer a person’s mental state.


Biogen announced its own study in January to develop “digital biomarkers to assist in the monitoring of cognitive performance.” The study, which began on September 20, will “investigate the role Apple Watch and iPhone could play in screening for decrease in cognitive health, including mild cognitive impairment,” according to the researchers.



Michel Vounatsos, the CEO of Biogen, shared in a statement:

“The successful development of digital biomarkers in brain health would help address the significant need to accelerate patient diagnoses and empower physicians and individuals to take timely action. For healthcare systems, such advancements in cognitive biomarkers from large-scale studies could contribute significantly to prevention and better population-based health outcomes, and lower costs to health systems.”


We can’t help but point out the irony in this research, because we can’t deny the role that technology has played in the demise of our collective mental health, but Apple probably does not want to factor that in and instead dives deeper into this research to potentially sell us more items that will supposedly make us “happier.”


If you’re reading this, here are some tips to avoid seasonal depression this year and some vitamins to take that may help with your depression. Also try body mobility exercises to help with your depression.