Bipolar disorder app predicts mood swings by eavesdropping on phone conversations


May 12, 2014

The PRIORI app looks for telltale changes in the speaker's speech patterns (Photo: Shutterstock)

The PRIORI app looks for telltale changes in the speaker's speech patterns (Photo: Shutterstock)

People afflicted with bipolar disorder must live with the fact that at any moment, they could launch into a major depressive or manic mental state. These mood swings can be so severe that dangerous, erratic behavior including suicide attempts can result. Researchers at the University of Michigan, however, are developing something that could prove to be very helpful. It's an Android app that listens to a patient's phone conversations, and detects the signs of oncoming mood swings in their voice.

Known as the PRIORI app, it constantly runs in the background on the patient's smartphone, recording all calls placed or received on the device, including weekly check-in calls with the patient's care team. By analyzing the patient's voice, it's able to identify subtle changes in their speech patterns, that are associated with the imminent onset of manic or depressive episodes.

Although the app is still in the developmental stage, the idea is that when such patterns are detected, both the patient and their caregivers will be alerted so that intervening and precautionary measures can be taken.

Due to privacy concerns, only the patient's side of conversations is recorded, and even that information is encrypted. Care teams only receive a report based on the processed data, and are not able to listen to the actual recorded audio itself.

In order for the app to work effectively, a baseline must first be set for each patient. This is part of the purpose of the check-in calls, at which times the patient's current speech patterns get matched to their reported mood. This means that the longer the app is used and the more familiar it becomes with the patient, the better it is able to predict their mood swings.

The researchers state that because other disorders such as schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease likewise show up in the form of changes in speech patterns, PRIORI could conceivably also be used to predict the onset of those conditions.

Source: University of Michigan

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Once one has BP...they medicate (typically) to avoid it. Not aware of anything a doctor can do to stop a mood swing when its happening. This is a very interesting application...with what appears to be a somewhat limited application. Perhaps better to use for someone who is thought to be bipolar to monitor patterns.... ie: rapid cycling of highs and lows.



Interesting tool, and a potential help for those with mental illness. I wish them well.

Let the conspiracy theories begin!

Bruce H. Anderson

Minor correction to above reviewers. It isn't just essential to mental health but all. As we know many in this world have frustrations and some could be in denial of disorder as some could be misleadingly using it as a escape route when gotten in trouble with laws. As such a heart monitor could help keep heart rate down. This could essentially help anybody with a lif frustration. Thought it is stated to detect moodswings and manic it essentially will detect any level of frustrations like a heart monitor detects any level of heart speed increase

Jason Pyktel
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