Mental illness can be notoriously difficult to diagnose in many cases, since symptoms may be invisible to physicians and those that are can be misleading. Objective methods that don’t rely on a direct observation would help to improve diagnosis.

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Researchers at Draper, the famous engineering firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have developed a system consisting of a number of different sensors that work together to analyze various vital signs and physical parameters to help with screening, diagnosing, and monitoring mental health conditions. The sensors include headset, wrist bands, and an ankle bracelet.

The system keeps track of a person’s heart rate, levels of sweating, respiration rate, and diameter of pupils. These data are brought together and crunched by computer algorithms, which will still probably need more work, to give a clinician some basic guidance.

Called SysteMD (System with Sensors to Evaluate Mental Disorders), the prototype product has already been tried in pilot studies with people suffering from PTSD and depression. It was able to accurately diagnose between 82% and 94% of PTSD casses correctly, a pretty impressive achievement. “With that level of accuracy, SysteMD shows promise for making a lasting impact on patients with mental illness—by enabling accurate diagnosis, supporting efficient treatment and ensuring effective monitoring over time,” said Andrea Webb, PhD, a principal scientist at Draper. “We believe technology can augment current clinical practice by enabling psychophysiological measurement as a diagnostic aid and evaluation tool in the treatment of mental health disorders.”


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