Should Apple Track Your Mental Health?


Whether you’ve been paying attention to it or not, if you have a smartphone running a recent version of iOS, it’s probably been keeping an eye on your health. Once enabled, HealthKit is always there–tracking your steps, walking distance and stairs climbed. If you tie it into other apps, it can also track your nutrition, your sleep, and even your reproductive health.

What it can’t track is your mental health. While HealthKit keeps tabs on every measurable metric under the sun, it doesn’t pay any attention to how you feel.

Spotify developer Brian Whitman pointed that fact out earlier this week on Twitter.

His tweet piqued the curiosity of Fast Company’s Christina Farr, who spoke with experts about the reasons Apple might have left such a broad segment of user tracking out of HealthKit.

Mental health experts say that Apple could take a variety of approaches. The company could choose to support users in inputting self-reported data (like mood) to compare that with exercise levels, sleep, and other metrics. Or it could help users detect when they’re feeling higher levels of stress and anxiety by tracking heart rate, respiration, or perspiration levels.

“One of the challenges with behavioral health is how to quantify it into a single metric or set of metrics,” said Jonathan Palley, cofounder of a startup called Spire, a wearable that aims to measure levels of stress by tracking respiratory levels. “It’s a growing, but new field of research.”

Mental health apps are big right now, and they’re only getting more popular. But algorithmically diagnosing mental health issues may still be beyond not only the tech, but the field.

Still, if HealthKit is intended to offer a holistic view of an individual’s health, it won’t succeed without so much as touching on mental health. Physical conditions can impact mood, and mental health issues can have physical symptoms. As long as Apple is only addressing the physical side of things, it seems that HealthKit users will only be getting half of the full health picture.

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