Rising rates of depression among American teenagers and young adults have led to a major question: Could the same devices being blamed for causing depression be used to find it?

Experts say possible warning signs include changes in writing speed, voice quality, word choice and how often a child stays home from school.

There are more than 1,000 smartphone “biomarkers,” said Dr. Thomas Insel. He is former head of the National Institute of Mental Health. He has become a leader in the smartphone psychiatry movement.

Researchers are testing smartphone apps that use artificial intelligence, or AI, to predict depression and possible self-harm.

Still, app developers say that effective, widely available depression-detecting apps may arrive soon.

Using smartphones as mental health detectors would require permission from users to download an app. They could take back their permission at any time.

Nick Allen is a psychologist at the University of Oregon. He is one of the creators of an app being tested on young people who have attempted suicide.

Suicide rates have risen in recent years in the United States. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 34. By 2015, rates among teen girls rose to 5 suicides in every 100,000 people. And, for boys, it is 14 in every 100,000.

A recent study suggested a rise in smartphone use has probably worsened the crisis.

People with mental illness, Insel said, usually get treatment “when they’re in crisis and very late... We want to have a method to identify the earliest signs.”

If smartphones can become effective predictors, app developers say the goal might be to offer automated text messages and links to assistance, or digital messages to parents, doctors and first responders.

Facebook is already doing what it calls “proactive detection.” Last year, after a suicide was broadcast on Facebook Live, the company trained its AI systems to look for words in online posts that could predict possible self-harm. Friends’ comments expressing concern about the user’s wellbeing are part of that detection system.

Ongoing research on the issue includes a Stanford University study of about 200 teens. Many of the teens are at risk for depression because of bullying, family issues or other problems. 

Laurel Foster, who is 15, is one of the teens from the study. She admits she feels stress over school and teen friendship pressures. 

At the University of California, Los Angeles, researchers are offering online counseling and an experimental phone app to students who show signs of at least minor depression on a test.

Alyssa Lizarraga, who is 19, is among those being studied. She has had depression since high school. . But she believes using smartphones to identify mental health problems might help push people to seek early treatment.

Along with studies at universities, technology companies such as Mindstrong and Verily -- the tech health division of Google -- are testing their own experimental apps.

Exercise 1


Read the following vocabulary with your teacher.


teenager – n. someone who is between 13 and 19 years old


app (n.) - a smartphone program that performs a special function


artificial intelligence (n.) - the power of a machine to copy intelligent human behavior


automated (adj.) - operated by machines or computers instead of people


bullying (n.) - the act of frightening, hurting or threatening a smaller or weaker person


mood (n.) - a person’s emotional state


stress (n.) - a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work or something else



Exercise 2


Answer these questions about the article.


  1. What is the major question?
  2. How many biomarkers there are in smartphones?
  3. How are researchers trying to help?
  4. What stresses Laurel Foster?


Exercise 3

Make a sentence.

Make sentences using these words


stress, mood, app, teenager



Exercise 4


Have a discussion on following questions.


  1. Was your schooling stressfull?
  2. Was high school easy for you?
  3. Were you ever a target for a bully?
  4. How would you help a depressed friend?





This lesson is based on a news article originally published by learningenglish.voanews.