LOS ANGELES (CNS) — UCLA researchers, in collaboration with Apple, are beginning a three-year study to understand the connection between quantifiable data and symptoms of anxiety and depression, university officials said.

Researchers with UCLA and Apple co-designed the study, which will use iPhones, Apple Watches and Beddit sleep-monitoring devices to obtain objective measures, such as sleep, physical activity, heart rate and daily routines, and “illuminate the relationship between these factors and anxiety depression,” according to UCLA.

Making this connection could help health care providers see warning signs and prevent depressive episodes, according to UCLA. It may also help track various treatment’s effectiveness and identify causes of depression.

“This collaboration, which harnesses UCLA’s deep research expertise and Apple’s innovative technology, has the potential to transform behavioral health research and clinical care,’’ said Dr. Nelson Freimer, who is study’s principal investigator. “Current approaches to treating depression rely almost entirely on the subjective recollections of depression sufferers. This is an important step for obtaining objective and precise measurements that guide both diagnosis and treatment.”

The pilot phase of the study begins this week, which will involve 150 UCLA Health patients. The study’s main phases will occur from 2021 through 2023 and involve about 3,000 participants, who will be chosen from both UCLA Health patients and the UCLA student body.

Participants will be monitored by an app on their iPhone, an Apple

Watch and a Beddit sleep-monitoring device. Researchers will also conduct clinical interviews with participants and give them questionnaires, but Freimer emphasized that their privacy and security will be a high priority.

All aspects of the study can also be accomplished remotely by participants, Freimer said.

“The pandemic has heightened anxiety and depression globally, and has increased awareness of the importance of behavioral health to overall wellbeing. At the same time, physical distancing requirements have limited in-person mental health assessment and treatment, leading to expanded use and acceptance of telehealth. These changes highlight the importance of incorporating technologies like those to be tested in this study into clinical research and eventually into practice,” he said.

The study is part of UCLA’s Depression Grand Challenge, which the university says has made significant advances in understanding and treating depression.

UCLA’s Depression Grand Challenge is an initiative “involving researchers from across disciplines to identify genetic and environmental factors that contribute to depression, understand the biological changes that depression causes in the brain and body, accelerate progress in diagnosis and treatment and end the stigma associated with the disorder,” according to UCLA.

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