By AffecTech researcher Camille Nadal

In 2017, World Health Organisation estimated that, globally, more than 311 million people of all ages suffer from depression. It is also the leading cause of disability worldwide [1]. In Nigeria for example, only 1/5 of those with a depressive episode receive any treatment and only 1 in 50 receives treatment that is minimally adequate. Difficult access to health institutions, high healthcare costs, and the stigma surrounding depression impede the access to help. Mobile Health is a growing field of research that brings innovative solutions to these issues, in particular relying on an everyday object: your smartphone.

Emotion regulation deficit, a main issue in depression

Emotion regulation is the process by which individuals influence which emotions they have, when they have them, and how they experience and express them [2]. One may engage in emotion regulation when appraising his/her current emotional state as inappropriate in our society, or when becoming aware that this emotional state is impacting in an unwanted way the impression one gives people, his/her relationships, work performance, or well-being.

People living with depression suffer these two kinds of situations and are more susceptible to use dysfunctional emotion regulation strategies, such as rumination or substance abuse [3]. Successfully regulating their emotions is a key in their healing journey and their smartphone could be the assistant they need to achieve it.

Managing depression with the help of smartphones

In 2017, about 2.6 billion smartphones were in use worldwide [4] and the average smartphone ownership is about 79% in Europe [5]. Mobility, existence of numerous embedded sensors, interaction with wearable devices, all these features of smartphones make them very good tools for assisting people living with depression. Studies [6,7,8] showed that smartphones could be used to:

  • Provide 24/7 access to support
  • Accurately predict emotional states
  • Detect suicidal thoughts
  • Facilitate patient-therapist interaction
  • Help compliance with treatment
  • Keep patients motivated

As individuals experience differently depression, the assistance provided by technology needs to be adaptive. By making possible correlation between context data, occurring events, user input data and physiological measures, smartphones allow a highly personalized follow-up. Finally, mobile assistance does not have to be a standalone intervention, but can complement face-to-face therapy providing therapists with more complete and reliable data, and helping patients to gain self-awareness and learn effective strategies to manage and recover from depression.


This research has been conducted as part of AffecTech Marie Curie Innovative Training Network. AffecTech is funded by the European Commission and dedicated to delivering effective low-cost self-help technologies to help sufferers of affective health conditions such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders.


[1] World Health Organization. (2017). World Health Statistics 2017. Geneva: World Health Organization, 29–35.
[2] Gross, J. J. (1998). The emerging field of emotion regulation: An integrative review. Review of General Psychology, 2(3), 271–299.
[3] Miranda, J., & Persons, J. B. (1988). Dysfunctional Attitudes Are Mood-State Dependent. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 97(1), 76–79.
[4] Statista. Statistics and facts about smartphones,
[5] Ketelaar, P. E., & van Balen, M. (2018). The smartphone as your follower: The role of smartphone literacy in the relation between privacy concerns, attitude and behaviour towards phone-embedded tracking. Computers in Human Behavior, 78, 174–182.
[6] Fulford, H., McSwiggan, L., Kroll, T., & MacGillivray, S. (2016). Exploring the Use of Information and Communication Technology by People With Mood Disorder: A Systematic Review and Metasynthesis. JMIR Mental Health, 3(3).
[7] Gaggioli, A., & Riva, G. (2013). From mobile mental health to mobile wellbeing: Opportunities and challenges. In Studies in Health Technology and Informatics (Vol. 184, pp. 141–147).
[8] Riva, G., Baños, R. M., Botella, C., Wiederhold, B. K., & Gaggioli, A. (2012). Positive Technology: Using Interactive Technologies to Promote Positive Functioning. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15(2), 69–77.

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