How a new computer assisted diagnostic approach could change how doctors diagnose mental health disorders.
Mental health has a lot of invisible faces and facets that makes it hard to quantify objectively, understand and even explain to others. It feels a little bit like Hollow Man (a sinister Hollywood where scientists discover how to make people invisible).
Classically, following suspicion of a mental disorder a health professional will carry out a series of questions and performance tests to try and figure out the problem, and corresponding solution. There are two golden standards that are constantly updated to classify mental illness: DSM and ICD.
The mere fact that there are differences between these two 'bibles' is an indication of the complexity of drawing lines between sanity and the colourfully different forms of insanity. It is imperfect. As an experiment a group of patients were diagnosed twice, once in the USA and once in the UK.
Individuals within the group were diagnosed as bipolar in one country and schizophrenic in the other country. Why does this matter? Because the treatment and following of the disorder depends heavily on the initial classification.
The frustrating intangibility of mental illnesses diagnosis can make it hard for the person to admit to it, let alone seek treatment. Just because we cannot see it, measure it, explain it, does not mean it is not very real for the person experiencing it.
The muddled reality and stigmatism is summed up between the disparity between how someone suffering from diabetes is treated vs someone suffering from an eating disorder.
The stigma is particularly strong for men, who are given little space to be emotionally weak in all of our societies across the globe. Men rarely seek out help to deal with depression, and often only reach out once it is very severe and therefore difficult to treat. In the UK, 1 in 10 men make it to a doctor for treatment (compared to 1 in 4 women, according to NICE).
Kris Knauer runs an Australian company called Medibio. Medibio claims it will be able to provide a computer assisted diagnostic tool for mental health. How someone is diagnosed for mental health disorders varies across the palettes, confirms Knauer.
A reliable objective diagnostic technique for mental health, that is affordable and widely available would be a huge asset to this confusion.
“What we are looking at is circadian heart rate, and there is something called heart rate variability which is the time between the heart rate intervals (while you sleep). From this we can see a relationship to mental illness. ”
Kris Knauer, CEO at Medbio
What's the Accuracy Rate?
Knauer says that at the moment their system's accuracy rate - bearing in mind that they use machine learning algorithms - is north of 80%. "We are hoping with additional data to get the rate up to round about 90%. In comparison, the current gold standard offers 70% accuracy".
Let's Have This Discussion!
Medbio's aim is to create an objective diagnostic tool for clinicians, Knauer's colleague Stapelberg says in the nuviun interview.
Alternative Objective Measurements
Knauer mentioned competitors looking at objectively measuring mental disorders. John Hopkins carried out EEG brain-scan research that can also diagnose depression. However, the commercialisation of EEG technology would range between a whopping 500-600$ per single test.
Another approach is a blood test, looking at 15 different biomarkers which would give a depression-score from 1 to 100. This test, Knauer believes, would amount to around 800$ per test.
Lastly, Behavior Matrix is looking at emotional big data analysis that now focuses on marketing but has the potential to pick up on mental illness through internet browsing patterns.
Tweet at Emotiv and ask them whether they considered supporting in mental health diagnostics:
“Our test is much cheaper. It is an ECG monitor, and there is no data handling for us. Our price point is much below those (alternatives)”, Knauer says.
New Ways to Diagnose Possible with New Tech
Comparison of costs vs. objectivity of mental health diagnosis (Full view)
Previous research has demonstrated abnormal heart rate patterns, especially during the sleeping interval, that are associated with depression, generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and schizophrenia.
Heart rate variability is the variation in the time interval between heartbeats and it’s measured by the variation in the beat-to-beat interval.
There lack of automated objective diagnostic measurement can mean the much needed support from friends and the community might evaporate.
Separating a loved one's actions from the mental disorder is a near impossible emotional surgery. Mental disorders are felt by the individual but also those surrounding them. Simply knowing when the disorder is taking a stronger grip of the person's personality and resulting actions may help to cope with this disruptive relationship.
How much do you know about the problems of mental health diagnostics?
In the near future Knauer and his team are looking to provide a cheaper more objective measure to help reaffirm mental illness diagnosis.
Hopefully this will help to track the progression of the illness, success of the treatment and last but not least help sufferers and their families and friends come to terms with the existence of this unwelcome visitor.