Researcher creates ‘weather radar’ for depression, asks students to help him

A personal ‘weather radar’ for symptoms of depression could help to prevent depression in the future. Clinical psychology researcher Eiko Fried with the University of Leiden is developing such a radar, and he’s looking for Groningen students to help.

Fried hopes to develop a kind of ‘depression alert’ that would be able to predict users’ mood based on daily data. ‘Just like an actual weather prediction app, it would project the next two weeks. It could be like a traffic light that’s either green, yellow, or red.’

The need for such a predictor is incredibly high, says Fried, because treatment methods for depression have barely changed since the 1990s. ‘Despite the amount of research, the efficacy of treatment hasn’t improved. Half of depressed patients don’t feel better after their first treatment.’


That’s why he and his project WARN-D, which he received a 1.5 million euro ERC Grant, are focused on preventing depression. ‘Anyone going through a depressive period for the first time is at great risk of a regression later on. You can counter that by preventing the depression in the first place. But the question remains: who should we treat and when?’

In order to answer that question, he follows two thousand students for his five-year study. For three months, the students wear a smart watch that measures their heart rate, activity level, and sleep rhythm. The students also fill out a questionnaire four times a day consisting of questions such as ‘how are you feeling?’, ‘who are you with right now?’, ‘are you browsing social media?’, and ‘are you studying right now?’.

Spotify Wrapped

After the three months are up, they hand in their smart watch. They then periodically receive questionnaires to fill out for the next two years. ‘We hope to detect who actually develops a depression and who doesn’t. After the first four months, participants receive a visualisation of their data, a kind of Spotify Wrapped of their results. They also receive compensation fro each question they answer.’

The research group is collecting several terabytes of data. They need it all, says Fried. ‘Many different factors play a role in depression. Not just your brain and your physical health, but also things like your personality, environment, and your lifestyle.’


Fried hopes to find patterns in all this data that would help him predict depression. It’s too early to say what the app will look like exactly. ‘We have to sort through all the data first. In my vision, it would involve answering a few questions a day, kind of like a diary, while the app also tracks your heart rate, sleep, and activity lives.’

What can a person do when the app recognises early warning signals? ‘It could warn you and give you some basic tips, or recommend that you talk to your GP.’

Students who want to participate in the research can sign up here.

Are you depressed? Do you need help? Contact Stichting 113 Zelfmoordpreventie at 0900-0113 and/or (both available 24/7).


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