In recent years, fitness trackers have become a staple of the tech market. However, wearable technology that can track your exercise habits have become commonplace, and consumers are looking for devices that can do more. Some scientists are looking into FitBit-esque devices to help track diabetes, while others are attempting to help women get pregnant. Today, I want to look at the strides forward toward wearable technology that can identify and assist with mental health and substance abuse.
Many people agree that mental health is just as important as physical health. One can play off of the other, and if not properly maintained, either can cause severe consequences in anyone’s life. This is why many fitness tracker developers have started researching technology that will point to early signs of mental distress.
For example, rapid breathing and increased heart rate are two significant signs of a panic attack. Many fitness trackers already track heart rate, for the safety of users, while some trackers have a meditation component that tracks breathing patterns. Although neither of these is perfect, they might be a great way for mental health professionals to track how often a patient becomes panicked. It could also be a sign for the average person that something is wrong.
Other than these well-established biometrics, companies are also looking for ways to accurately detect galvanic skin response (GSR) in users. GSR measures sweat secretion, which is a huge physical component of stress and may be an early indicator of a mental health problem.
Aside from these factors, companies are also looking to find ways to test blood glucose levels and other biological factors without needing a needle. While this is primarily to help diabetic patients, this is already evolving to help fight drug abuse. Drug abuse typically comes with side effects that may be easier to monitor, such as jittery movements and a dramatic spike in heart rate.
Although this technology is exciting, there are some barriers to releasing a mental health tracker. The most concrete problem is the lack of telling biometrics. For example, someone can have a similar biological response to both excitement and fear (or rather, positive and negative stress). There are also many mental illnesses that do not result in easily-measured physical symptoms.
Another problem is the difficulty in correctly identifying an individual’s disorder. An easily understandable example is how people suffering from bipolar disorder may be misdiagnosed as having depression while in a depressive episode. Trackers should not be the only diagnostic tool, however, as they may cause confusion if used to identify key characteristics of illnesses.
Despite these hurdles, mental health trackers are going to come in the future. I am interested to see what technology they incorporate, and to what extent they can identify potential problems. My biggest hope is that they are accurate and can incorporate other technologies that can measure biometrics that are more closely associated with mental illness.