Australian scientists have developed a new computerized tool in the fight against depression. The programme could help diagnose the problem with up to 80 per cent accuracy.
The joint research project between the University of Canberra, Queensland Institute of Medical Research and the Black Dog Institute at the University of New South Wales will feature in a workshop to mark the launch of the University of Canberra's new Human-Centred Computing Laboratory. The next step is to develop a laptop based prototype.
"Ultimately, we hope to assist patients with depression to monitor the progress of their illness in a similar way that a patient with diabetes monitors their blood sugar levels with a small portable device," said University of Canberra researcher Dr Roland Goecke.
Half of all Australians will experience mental illness during their life, but despite the high prevalence, current clinical practice depends almost exclusively on self-report and clinical opinion, risking a range of subjective biases, Dr Goecke said.
Dr Goecke and his colleagues have completed a pilot study of their 'affective computing' technology on 40 patients and 40 healthy control subjects.
The technology analyses a subject's mental health by recognising markers of depression, such movements in the eyebrows and lips, when subjects are exposed to video clips designed to elicit an emotional response.
"The results demonstrate the capacity of affective computing technology to help with and improve the diagnosis of depressive disorders and the monitoring of progress during therapy. As health care costs increase in Australia, the provision of effective health monitoring systems and diagnostic aides is highly important. Affective computing technology can and will play a major role in this," Dr Goecke added.
The next steps are to identify a new generation of objective 'markers' of mental illness in subjects' expressions and combine physiological, audio and video sensors in a single device to measure depression.
Launched today, the University of Canberra's new Human-Centred Computing Laboratory will undertake multidisciplinary cutting-edge research ranging from face and gait recognition to forensic voice comparison and fingerprint analysis, from the detection of depressive disorders to the reliable tracking of athletes in field sports and the analysis of their performance.