Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Depression: Mobile Phones to the Rescue

Hoping to tap into the resource of umpteen thousands of cellphones, Australian researchers have prepared a new tool to gauge teenage depression. From the article:

"The application -- which gathers information into how adolescents experience and respond to distress -- is expected to provide more comprehensive and accurate data than traditional research tools such as written questionnaires. It initially comprises a set of questionnaires that pop-up on the phone at random intervals three to four times during the day.
The respondent enters a PIN or ID code and answer a list of questions on the phone through the text function."

So in essence, this is an annoying pop-up questionnaire that will prove so irritating that teens all throughout Australia will have a new reason to hate their parents. Then again, my own teen has an unbounded passion for online questionnaires. Perhaps these guys are more on target than I give them credit for. Still, one has to wonder how effective the answers will be. Teenagers are a moody bunch to begin with, or cheeky, or both as was my case. So if prompted with a "How are you feeling today" by a well-meaning but faceless SMS prompt, they are likely to respond "Pretty lousy. Bugger off," even if they are feeling good that day.

Although I am happy to see teenage depression addressed by the medical community, I doubt that a nosey questionnaire is going to be effective in the long run. However, I think it is a step in the right direction. Teaching teens to be analytical of their feelings is a great idea. But the program only goes so far. Right now they haven't figured out the "report to the shrink" part of the process. And when they do, I suspect the report will be grokked by a PC sitting in a call center where a phone monkey will receive an alert and make a phone call.

"Mrs. Osbourne? This is Reggy, ID #412, calling from the Getting Down Call Center. Your daughter, Alice, is depressed."

"Oh? I'm in the middle of a pedicure. Could you tell her to think happy thoughts for me 'till I get back to her? That's a dear. Thanks for calling."

More indepth feedback from teenagers about their moods is a wonderful thing. I hope that the researchers balance the program with parental responsibility for the well-being of their child, informative questions that aren't inane or insulting, and respect for the teenager's need for choice. Speaking as a former cynical and jaded youth, I didn't think much of personality tests and I certainly wouldn't enjoy being prompted to take one during math, lunch, PE, or when hanging with my friends.