Voice-Tracking App Can Help Bipolar Sufferers Manage Their Moods

Voice-Tracking App Can Help Bipolar Sufferers Manage Their Moods

Technology to help people stay on top of their chronic conditions.

Ross Brooks
  • 14 may 2014

One of the most challenging aspects of dealing with Bipolar disorder is not knowing when your mood with suddenly switch from one extreme to the other. To try and offer people a way of staying one step ahead, a team from the University of Michigan’s Depression Center have developed an experimental new smartphone app called PRIORI. The app is able to monitor a person’s voice during everyday phone conversations in order to detect early signs of mood changes.

The app runs in the background on any ordinary smartphone, and automatically monitors a patient’s voice when they make a call. Specialized software then analyzes various characteristics of what what was said, and equally as important, what wasn’t said. To maintain privacy, only the patient’s side of the conversation is recorded, and researchers can only the results of computer analysis.

This data is then compared with weekly mood assessments carried out by a trained clinician that help to provide a benchmark, and are used to correlate the acoustic features of speech with their mood state.


So far, the app has been tested by six patients with a rapid-cycling form of Type 1 bipolar disorder, which was able to detect elevated and depressed moods using the analysis of voice characteristics from everyday conversations. The eventual aim of the project is to detect the changes that come before a sudden change in mood, as well as come up with a way to notify the app user and care providers, so that appropriate intervention can take place.

“These pilot study results give us preliminary proof of the concept that we can detect mood states in regular phone calls by analyzing broad features and properties of speech, without violating the privacy of those conversations,” says Karam, a postdoctoral fellow and specialist in machine learning and speech analysis. “As we collect more data the model will become better, and our ultimate goal is to be able to anticipate swings, so that it may be possible to intervene early.”

Adds McInnis, a bipolar specialist, added that, “This is tremendously exciting not only as a technical achievement, but also as an illustration of what the marriage of mental health research, engineering and innovative research funding can make possible.”

There are other mental health disorders characterized by a change in someone’s voice, such as schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder, which means the same technology be used to treat other conditions. Recent developments continue to indicate that technology can offer new hope to those with chronic conditions, as proven by the fact that Google Glass was recently put to work helping people with Parkinson’s not only deal with their symptoms, but also regain some of the independence they thought they had lost forever.

[h/t] CNET

Images by Garry Knight

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