Wearable Device Could Keep Watch On Young Aussies' Mental Health

It's smart, simple to use and passes as a Fitbit without much of a second glance. 

But this wearable e-device has a slightly different purpose: to monitor and improve the care of a young person with a mental illness.

The Western Sydney Local Health District is behind the new trial project, called unWired, that will see 20 young Aussies consent to wearing wristwatches that track their activity and level of stress.

That collected data is then sent back to the wearer and their treating clinician through an app as an "early warning" to help them manage their condition and, where necessary, signal professional intervention.

It's a Fitbit, but slightly different. Image: Supplied

The district's Executive Director of Mental Health Services Professor Beth Kotze said the device could "revolutionise" treatment of severe mental health disorders, if successful.

"What we are trying to do is actually influence their care so that we can not only intervene early but prevent the crises of admissions, and possibly even suicide," she said.

It follows research from Flinders University that found smartwatches were an effective tool in improving the treatment of mental health disorders through early detection.

Suicide remains the leading cause of death among Australians aged 15-24, according to the latest statistics.

UnWired is part of a growing response by various organisations and platforms, including Twitter and Lifeline, that are reaching out to affected young Aussies via a language most are well acquainted with: technology.

READ MORE: Lifeline Launches Twitter DM Chatbot To Make It Easier To Seek Help 

"There is no doubt about it; the world is a changing place and the pressures on young people are enormous," said Neil Balnaves, founder of the Balnaves Foundation that is funding the project.

"This is a perfect combination of what young people use and relate to and their mental health so they can work hand-in-glove with their consultant to help them through issues as they arise."

Wearable devices, like Fitbits, can be used to identify early warning signs of mental health disorders. Image: Getty

For 22-year-old wearer Stephanie D'Souza, from the Western Sydney Local Health District Youth Council, the device is about "putting mental health into the mix".

"We are able to integrate something that we already do all the time, like scrolling through Facebook or Instagram ... and really making that (mental health) more of a habit rather than a responsibility," she said.

And ultimately, it encourages autonomy.

Stephanie D’Souza from the Western Sydney Local Health District Youth Council. Image: Supplied

"It really helps to give us our own way of dealing with our mental health ... without having the struggle of needing to verbalise all of these feelings, which can be really difficult and confronting," D'Souza said.

Twenty people will be taking part in the pilot study early next year that is expected to go to a randomised trial involving 80 participants.

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondBlue on 1300 22 4636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

Contact the author: ebrancatisano@networkten.com.au