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This New App Could Identify And Prevent Teen Depression

Smartphones could be key for coping teens.

It seems like every other week there's a new study explaining how smartphones are ruining our brains. But now there's some good news regarding our touchscreen overlords! Researchers have figured out a way that the devices could actually improve mental health.

A team of professors and graduate students at Rutgers University is developing a smartphone app that monitors and evaluates teens' moods and activities, which makes it easier to identify users who may need treatment for depression.

The app, currently known as Crowd ++, uses several measures to determine the user's mental state:

>> Social interaction and physical activity is monitored through the device's microphone

>> Texts and calls are tracked

>> The user fills out a daily entry describing their state of mind and stress-triggering events

This daily survey aspect has been particularly effective at distinguishing teens with healthy coping behavior from those with a more deep-seated depression.

"Everyone has fleeting moods up and down," Brian Chu, a psychology professor working on the app, told Rutgers Today. "We are looking to find the kids who are getting stuck. The app allows us to get a continuous view of how a teen is experiencing everyday life, to find out where the triggers are -- and where their hot spots might be."

Overall, the app sounds pretty similar to the one that uses biometrics and a questionnaire to determine whether a user is hanging out with a toxic friend. But the researchers don't just want Crowd ++ to serve as an early detection system. They're hoping it can also help with coping and prevention.

Chu and his colleague Yanyong Zhang, a computer engineering professor, eventually want to develop a digital "coping coach" that would recognize vulnerable users and recommend behavioral changes and stress management techniques for them.

Surely some teens would rather talk about their problems with a virtual therapist than with a parent or school counselor, right? Perhaps this feature could be the key to getting young users to agree to have their messages and activities monitored.