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Smartphones as a Tool for Suicide Prevention
January 31, 2018

Doctors have blood pressure cuffs and ECGs to get a reading on your heart; optometrists have tonometers (the machine that puffs in your eye) to measure the pressure inside your eye; dentists have mirrors, probes and X-ray machines to examine tooth decay. But how do psychiatrists produce an objective reading for your mood? Dr. Lloyd Balbuena from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Saskatchewan will use recent SHRF funding to evaluate and propose smartphone technology as a valuable tool for mood and lifestyle monitoring. 

Balbuena’s area of psychiatric research focuses on the social and personal predictors of suicide. Suicide is a major cause of preventable death, yet the lack of linked health and mortality data in Canada is a problem for suicide research. Balbuena and his team will look at data from the UK and Norway, and also compare a group of Saskatchewan patient-reported experiences rating mood and suicidal thoughts with smartphone-reported sleep, physical activity and sunlight exposure data. 

Smartphones can provide researchers with objective, real-time reporting of a person’s mood or suicidal thoughts that would otherwise not be available with older methods of self-reporting and measurement, for example with a diary. “If you have this data about people’s behaviours, you could then modify those habits for better self-management and doctors can implement a more evidence-based treatment plan,” says Balbuena. 

“The knowledge acquired through this research has practical importance,” continues Balbuena. “All medical specialties outside of psychiatry rely on instruments that produce readings. Perhaps smartphones can fill this role for psychiatry.”


This story was first featured in Research for Health magazine. 

Read more stories about the impact of SHRF-funded research.

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