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Depression Monitoring Algorithms Support the Mental Health of Veterans

Jun 10, 2022 ● By Dr. Girish Srinivasan
Behavidence by Dr. Girish Srinivasan

Image by rodnae productions for Pexels

This time of year—the summer months—are memorable for many families, and a big part of that is due to the holidays we celebrate. Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day all honor our soldiers—but what are we really doing when they need our help?
Whether it be due to the pandemic, previous trauma, or other factors, a lot of people are struggling with their mental health today—and they don’t need to be. They just need to find the right help. This is particularly true for veterans.

Data can help in diagnosing mental health conditions

While the nation doesn’t take mental health as seriously as it should, the medical community also doesn’t have a standard by which they diagnose mental health conditions. Accuracy in psychiatry is low: when two psychiatrists see the same patient, the odds that they will agree on a diagnosis and path for treatment is less than 30%.
I’m a biomedical engineer and data scientist, so I may be biased, but in my opinion—data is the solution. And where can we get a wealth of data that can be used to analyze and assess shifts and changes in behaviors, which may give us insights into mental health? The same place businesses and websites mine data from—consumer technology.
I partnered with a neuroscientist, a neuropsychologist, and a physician in 2020, and we created Behavidence—a mental health tracking application—to address the mental health crisis in our country, and we’re hoping to have a big impact on the veteran population. Research suggests that about half of recent veterans struggling with behavioral health concerns, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, do not seek care for such concerns.

How to reach veterans to better understand mental health care needs

However, reaching veterans to understand more about their care-seeking behaviors poses a conundrum. Clinical settings are typically where veterans are recruited for studies, and therefore the population of interest—those not seeking care—is not represented. How do we reach veterans who need care but do not receive it?
I saw an opportunity to apply what I had learned in biomedical engineering and imaging artificial intelligence to leverage consumer technology to monitor, measure, and improve the mental health of veterans. Our Behavidence AI understands mobile interactions to help create a profile of at-risk people. The score is based on a digital behavior comparison to other people diagnosed with ADHD, depression, or anxiety. We’re conducting research with the veteran population, and you can learn more about the study content here.
The numbers don’t lie: one in five U.S. adults experience mental illness each year; one in 20 experience serious mental illness each year; 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by the age of 14 (and 75% by age 24); and suicide is the second leading cause of death. These stats are jarring but ever-present in the work that companies like Behavidence do.

A few years ago, researchers at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System found a significant association between the severity of PTSD in 60 male veterans and a greater frequency of suicidal thoughts, plans, and impulses. And that’s how I hope companies like mine can help veterans.
It’s hard to be self-aware and to know when our moods are normal ebbs and flows or indicative of a larger issue. If you’re not self-aware, making choices and decisions about your mental health becomes more challenging—which leads to those most in need failing to seek out mental health support and treatment. This comes at a dire cost.
This is where data can help. If we can see how our moods and behaviors are trending, or identify patterns that illustrate extremes in our moods, then we can understand ourselves better and become more self-aware. Increasing self-awareness and empowering each of us to identify and avoid mental decline puts the control back in our hands. We don’t need to fall victim to mental health crises. We have the tools—the technological solutions—that will helps us identify problems so that we can work with our physicians to get accurate diagnoses and effective treatments.
Veterans feeling hopeless, experiencing an emotional crisis, or engaging in self-destructive behavior, such as drug abuse, should call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).