Can smartphones predict relapses in case of schizophrenia?

Can smartphones predict relapses in case of schizophrenia?

October 15, 2019

Can smartphones predict relapses in case of schizophrenia?

Mental Health

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), schizophrenia is a form of severe mental health disorder that alters the way a person behaves, thinks, or feels making them feel detached from reality. It is often accompanied by hallucinations, delusions, and other cognitive complications, which makes socializing difficult for the patient.

Due to instances of isolation, the symptoms of schizophrenia often tend to worsen. Hence, consistent monitoring of behavioral patterns of patients with mental health disorders is important to prevent relapse or worsening of existing conditions. However, monitoring such people to recognize the shifts in behavior is not only time consuming and labor intensive, but also logistically challenging.

Taking this thought into consideration, researchers from the University of Washington’s (UW) Department of Medicine Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences along with computer science researchers from Cornell University and Dartmouth College at Zucker Hillside Hospital recently conducted a study to find out how passive sensors like smartphones and apps can be used to predict relapses in the case of schizophrenia.

Passive sensors collect information about usage pattern

Progress in the field of technology especially in digital phenotyping using devices such as smartphones and Fitbits have contributed to collection of information in the field of mental health treatment. This successful collection of data has encouraged researchers to use it as a means for identifying certain behavioral patterns that may indicate a mental health problem.

For the study, the researchers identified 61 participants with a high risk of relapse. These were provided with smartphones installed with CrossCheck, a behavioral sensing app developed to track social activity through message logs and phone calls.

CrossCheck is a passive sensor system which records the frequency of social media use by collecting information about smartphone use. It does not record the actual conversations nor do the participants need to enter any information manually.

Lower social media activity may indicate relapse

Explaining the advantage of passive sensors, lead author Dr. Benjamin Buck, a senior fellow at the UW School of Public Health said that systems and apps like CrossCheck help in frequent data collection unlike the traditional methods in which a mental health worker collects information manually. As it takes time to collect data manually, it hampers any prompt action and preventive measures.

Dr. Buck added that technological advancements help in providing new opportunities to gather useful data and complete more assessments in a timely manner. Previously, many mental healthcare providers relied on manual assessments and on their judgements to identify the severity of a patient’s mental health illness and the possibility of a relapse. Software like CrossCheck provide nonstop tracking and monitoring at any given point in time thus allowing doctors to immediately identify the risk of a relapse.

According to the findings of the study, it was seen that a decline in the number of outgoing calls and text messages predicted a possible relapse of symptoms including suicidal ideation and even severe psychosis, necessitating hospitalization.


Because the study was in its initial stage, there is a lot to be studied to understand the role of passive sensors in mental health assessment. Patricia Atwater, director of health promotion at Hall Health Center said that the use of advanced technologies sometimes can be too overwhelming for students. She also added that since many mental healthcare providers base their treatment on evidence-backed practices such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the use of technology becomes limited.

Though technology helps in keeping track of one’s mental health, self-monitoring often proves ineffective without professional help. Sometimes, the symptoms of mental health disorders become unmanageable for apps and software. Therefore, advisable to keep one’s doctor updated and apprised of developments.

Seeking treatment for schizophrenia

According to estimates, approximately 1 percent Americans are diagnosed with schizophrenia every year. As it is one of the top 15 leading causes of disability in the world, it is important to identify symptoms and seek treatment as soon as possible. Even after successful management of the disorder, keeping a lookout for relapse is crucial to ensure that the patient enjoys a high quality of life.

Treatment for mental health disorders including schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder is available at various reputed and licensed mental health facilities across the country. If you or a loved one is battling a mental health disorder and is looking for credible schizophrenia treatment centers, get in touch with Invictus Health Group. Call our 24/7 helpline 866-548-0190 and speak to a member of our admissions team. You can also chat online to a representative to get connected to our partner mental health centers for quick resolution of your symptoms.

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