Smartphones could be used as an aid for people who are suffering with depression

We may resent the intrusion of smartphones in our daily lives, but researchers at King’s College London are finding they can be a unique aid to help people with depression.

Smartphones can track sufferers’ symptoms and the impact they have on their lives, and hopefully throw new light on treatment.

The King’s team, in collaboration with researchers in three other ­countries, tracked 500 people with depression on their smartphones.

They found problems with concentration, attention and memory have a clear relationship with the severity of depression and how people function in everyday life.

Using ­smartphones to report thinking ­difficulties could be valuable in ­monitoring depression.

Sara Simblett, joint first author on the study from King’s, says: “Many patients with depression report ­difficulties in thinking and this affects important aspects of their life such as finding a job and socialising.

“Although thinking problems have been recognised as being an important part of depression, they are rarely monitored because it is challenging for both clinicians and patients.

“Remote monitoring through smartphones and wearable devices could offer an acceptable and impactful solution”.

Many people with depression encounter difficulties with thinking which may result in sadness, poor quality of life and the inability to
work. However, fewer than half of psychiatrists monitor patients’ ­problems in this area.

Measuring cognitive impairment isn’t easy so remote monitoring by smartphone could be a convenient way to assess thinking at regular ­interviews without patients needing to travel.

The study analysed data provided by 508 participants from the UK, Spain and the Netherlands who had completed app-based assessments of thinking, alongside measures of depression, self-esteem and difficulties with tasks essential for everyday life.

The three-monthly assessments were followed up for a maximum of two years. Over three-quarters (76.2%) of participants were female and the average age was 46.6 years.

Results show persistent thinking difficulties are linked to worse ­depression and difficulties in ­functioning in everyday life.

People suffering with persistent ­difficulties report higher levels of depression than those whose difficulties were not so intense.

Moreover, those who had difficulties making decisions had more problems with everyday tasks, and those with slow processing speed tended to have worse symptoms of depression.

Dr Faith Matcham, from King’s and Sussex universities and joint first author, said: “Our study confirms an important relationship exists between difficulties in memory, decision-making and concentration and the severity of depression.

“By using an app to assess this relationship, we have also shown the potential insight this type of remote monitoring may provide to help patients and clinicians manage depression symptoms and the impact on life.”