Personal sensing for mental health and wellbeing

Mobile phone screen with a silhouette of a human head with a jigsaw puzzle piece being fitted into it

Project overview

An evolving use for smartphones (and other personal/wearable devices) of interest to the health and other sciences involves collecting and analysing data from the usage and sensors of such devices to infer information about users.

Particularly in the fields of psychology and psychiatry, this use of smartphones is the basis of what is known as personal sensing or digital phenotyping. The basic idea is that smartphone usage patterns and behaviours can be indicators of certain psychological states or conditions. In terms of psychiatry or clinical psychology, such information can be used to predict or determine the presence of mental health conditions.

Another distinctive use for smartphones relevant to behavioural/mental health and health more generally, is to infer immediate, in-situ information about a user’s context, that can inform the delivery of personalised real-time therapy recommendations, or ecological momentary interventions.


SMARTSENSE-D: Smartphone Sensing in Depression, A Pilot Study in Young People

We are conducting this digital phenotyping pilot study in conjunction with the Orygen youth mental health institute. The first aim of this study is to evaluate the feasibility, safety, and acceptability of smartphone passive sensing in young individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD). The second aim is to evaluate the performance of certain passive data obtained through mobile sensing (using the AWARE app) in tracking clinically meaningful changes in mood and other depression-related behaviour (eg, sleep disturbances, social withdrawal) obtained through ecological momentary assessment (EMA), actigraphy and baseline and follow-up psychometric assessments.

StudentSense: Digital Phenotyping of a University Student Cohort

Reports such as the University of Melbourne's 'Towards a health promoting university' suggest the need for better (information) systems to support the mental health, wellbeing, and academic performance of university students. Given this rationale, the main aim of this exploratory study is to investigate the mental health, wellbeing, and performance of students at the University of Melbourne over the course of a semester using tools and techniques from the field of digital phenotyping. Apart from generating insights of general interest into what events/factors lead to better/worse student mental health and outcomes, this research could lead to unobtrusive systems that monitor the mental health of students, predict the onset of mental ill-health, and inform intervention.

Project team

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