BACKGROUND: Mood disorders are burdensome illnesses that often go undetected and untreated. Sensor technologies within smartphones may provide an opportunity for identifying the early changes in circadian rhythm and social support/connectedness that signify the onset of a depressive or manic episode.
OBJECTIVE: Using smartphone sensor data, this study investigated the relationship between circadian rhythm, which was determined by GPS data, and symptoms of mental health among a clinical sample of adults diagnosed with major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder.
METHODS: A total of 121 participants were recruited from a clinical setting to take part in a 10-week observational study. Self-report questionnaires for mental health outcomes, social support, social connectedness, and quality of life were assessed at 6 time points throughout the study period. Participants consented to passively sharing their smartphone GPS data for the duration of the study. Circadian rhythm (ie, regularity of location changes in a 24-hour rhythm) was extracted from GPS mobility patterns at baseline.
RESULTS: Although we found no association between circadian rhythm and mental health functioning at baseline, there was a positive association between circadian rhythm and the size of participants' social support networks at baseline (r=0.22; P=.03; R2=0.049). In participants with bipolar disorder, circadian rhythm was associated with a change in anxiety from baseline; a higher circadian rhythm was associated with an increase in anxiety and a lower circadian rhythm was associated with a decrease in anxiety at time point 5.
CONCLUSIONS: Circadian rhythm, which was extracted from smartphone GPS data, was associated with social support and predicted changes in anxiety in a clinical sample of adults with mood disorders. Larger studies are required for further validations. However, smartphone sensing may have the potential to monitor early symptoms of mood disorders.