Apple reportedly researching ways for iPhone to monitor common mental health conditions including depression

Apple has invested a lot into how it can use its technology for medical purposes. It already has a native sleep tracker for iOS that works in conjunction with sensors on the Apple Watch. It also partnered with AliveCor to manufacture a watch band that allows the watch to capture medical-grade EKGs, which the FDA approved a few years ago.

Apple now believes that the iPhone can help diagnose mental conditions including depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline. Researchers at Apple are studying how analyzing data such as sleep patterns, mobility, and typing rhythms could detect early signs of mental dysfunction before conditions worsen.

Wall Street Journal sources close to the research say that the iPhone could potentially pinpoint targetted conditions reliably using a combination of sensor data and machine learning algorithms. The Apple Watch already has a good reputation for detecting irregular heart rhythms, and it is not unreasonable to think that conditions that have tell-tale signs could be picked up on by another device that people have with them all the time.

Other possible metrics that the researchers are considering include facial expressions, heart rate, and respiration rate. All data would be collected and analyzed on the device with nothing sent to Apple servers.

Apple has partnered with the University of California, Los Angles, in a project codenamed “Seabreeze” to study conditions that include depression, stress, and anxiety. A pilot study started in 2020 with 150 volunteers will expand to 3,000 participants sometime this year.

To look into cognitive impairment, researchers have teamed up with pharmaceutical company Biogen. That two-year study is codenamed “Pi.” The Biogen research reportedly began on Monday after receiving FDA approval over the summer. It hopes to capture the early warning signs of Alzheimer’s Syndrome. It aims to have 20,000 participants, with half being high-risk subjects.

The research is still in the very early stages, so it will likely be quite some time before anything official is announced. Apple, UCLA, and Biogen all declined to comment on the matter.