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Digital phenotyping for mental health of college students: a clinical review
  1. Jennifer Melcher,
  2. Ryan Hays,
  3. John Torous
  1. Division of Digital Psychiatry, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr John Torous, Psychiatry, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts, USA; jtorous{at}


Experiencing continued growth in demand for mental health services among students, colleges are seeking digital solutions to increase access to care as classes shift to remote virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using smartphones to capture real-time symptoms and behaviours related to mental illnesses, digital phenotyping offers a practical tool to help colleges remotely monitor and assess mental health and provide more customised and responsive care. This narrative review of 25 digital phenotyping studies with college students explored how this method has been deployed, studied and has impacted mental health outcomes. We found the average duration of studies to be 42 days and the average enrolled to be 81 participants. The most common sensor-based streams collected included location, accelerometer and social information and these were used to inform behaviours such as sleep, exercise and social interactions. 52% of the studies included also collected smartphone survey in some form and these were used to assess mood, anxiety and stress among many other outcomes. The collective focus on data that construct features related to sleep, activity and social interactions indicate that this field is already appropriately attentive to the primary drivers of mental health problems among college students. While the heterogeneity of the methods of these studies presents no reliable target for mobile devices to offer automated help—the feasibility across studies suggests the potential to use these data today towards personalising care. As more unified digital phenotyping research evolves and scales to larger sample sizes, student mental health centres may consider integrating these data into their clinical practice for college students.

  • adult psychiatry
  • depression & mood disorders

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  • Contributors All authors contributed equally.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests JT receives unrelated research support from Otsuka.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement No data are available.