College students seeking help for depression and anxiety may soon be able to turn to their smartphones for campus counseling. Michigan State University (MSU) recently received $1 million from the National Science Foundation to develop mobile technology that can analyze student behaviors to help clinicians provide treatment.

MSU’s College of Engineering, College of Communications Arts and Sciences, and Counseling Center are all collaborating on the new technology, which they’ve named iSee. The technology seeks to enhance and supplement in-person counseling services.

“Our technology will allow college counseling centers to be more accurately informed with the severity of each student,” explained Mi Zhang, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering who is heading up the project, to campus newspaper MSU Today. “As such, unnecessary visits can be reduced and clinician time can be better utilized.”

The technology will provide two main services–one to students and one to clinicians. First, the technology will objectively measure a student’s depressive indicators. Next, for students,  it will provide the student help in managing his or her symptoms. For clinicians, the technology will identify students with the most urgent needs–a very helpful service given the frequently limited resources of on-campus counseling centers.

The iSee technology uses sensors inside smartphones and wristbands to monitor a student’s behaviors, including physical activity, diet and eating habits, sleep patterns, travel and social behavior,  all behaviors that can indicate a student’s well-being.

According to the project abstract, iSee then relies on a behavior analytics engine that uses machine learning and algorithms running in the cloud to translate the sensor data into meaningful analysis results for identifying the patient’s depression severity.

Finally, iSee takes the analytics and displays it on a clinician-side dashboard running to help clinicians better visualize behavior information, with the goal of assisting clinicians in making better clinical decisions and conduct treatment.

“The iSee project is an extremely innovative approach to using technology in the context of mental health treatment, and it promises to significantly augment the ways in which university counseling centers engage with our students,” said Scott Becker, director of the MSU Counseling Center who collaborated on the project, to MSU Today.

While the project will initially focus on depression, it can later be expanded to include other mental health issues, including anxiety, bipolar disorder, dementia, and schizophrenia.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.