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Title: Digital biomarkers for depression screening with wearable devices: cross-sectional study with machine learning modeling
Authors: Rykov, Yuri
Thach, Thuan-Quoc
Bojic, Iva
Christopoulos, George
Car, Josip
Keywords: Science::Medicine
Issue Date: 2021
Source: Rykov, Y., Thach, T., Bojic, I., Christopoulos, G. & Car, J. (2021). Digital biomarkers for depression screening with wearable devices: cross-sectional study with machine learning modeling. JMIR MHealth and UHealth, 9(10), e24872-.
Project: L2NIC FP1-2013-2
Journal: JMIR mHealth and uHealth
Abstract: Background: Depression is a prevalent mental disorder that is undiagnosed and untreated in half of all cases. Wearable activity trackers collect fine-grained sensor data characterizing the behavior and physiology of users (ie, digital biomarkers), which could be used for timely, unobtrusive, and scalable depression screening. Objective: The aim of this study was to examine the predictive ability of digital biomarkers, based on sensor data from consumer-grade wearables, to detect risk of depression in a working population. Methods: This was a cross-sectional study of 290 healthy working adults. Participants wore Fitbit Charge 2 devices for 14 consecutive days and completed a health survey, including screening for depressive symptoms using the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), at baseline and 2 weeks later. We extracted a range of known and novel digital biomarkers characterizing physical activity, sleep patterns, and circadian rhythms from wearables using steps, heart rate, energy expenditure, and sleep data. Associations between severity of depressive symptoms and digital biomarkers were examined with Spearman correlation and multiple regression analyses adjusted for potential confounders, including sociodemographic characteristics, alcohol consumption, smoking, self-rated health, subjective sleep characteristics, and loneliness. Supervised machine learning with statistically selected digital biomarkers was used to predict risk of depression (ie, symptom severity and screening status). We used varying cutoff scores from an acceptable PHQ-9 score range to define the depression group and different subsamples for classification, while the set of statistically selected digital biomarkers remained the same. For the performance evaluation, we used k-fold cross-validation and obtained accuracy measures from the holdout folds. Results: A total of 267 participants were included in the analysis. The mean age of the participants was 33 (SD 8.6, range 21-64) years. Out of 267 participants, there was a mild female bias displayed (n=170, 63.7%). The majority of the participants were Chinese (n=211, 79.0%), single (n=163, 61.0%), and had a university degree (n=238, 89.1%). We found that a greater severity of depressive symptoms was robustly associated with greater variation of nighttime heart rate between 2 AM and 4 AM and between 4 AM and 6 AM; it was also associated with lower regularity of weekday circadian rhythms based on steps and estimated with nonparametric measures of interdaily stability and autocorrelation as well as fewer steps-based daily peaks. Despite several reliable associations, our evidence showed limited ability of digital biomarkers to detect depression in the whole sample of working adults. However, in balanced and contrasted subsamples comprised of depressed and healthy participants with no risk of depression (ie, no or minimal depressive symptoms), the model achieved an accuracy of 80%, a sensitivity of 82%, and a specificity of 78% in detecting subjects at high risk of depression. Conclusions: Digital biomarkers that have been discovered and are based on behavioral and physiological data from consumer wearables could detect increased risk of depression and have the potential to assist in depression screening, yet current evidence shows limited predictive ability. Machine learning models combining these digital biomarkers could discriminate between individuals with a high risk of depression and individuals with no risk.
ISSN: 2291-5222
DOI: 10.2196/24872
Schools: Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine (LKCMedicine) 
Nanyang Business School 
Rights: ©Yuri Rykov, Thuan-Quoc Thach, Iva Bojic, George Christopoulos, Josip Car. Originally published in JMIR mHealth and uHealth (, 25.10.2021. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in JMIR mHealth and uHealth, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.
Fulltext Permission: open
Fulltext Availability: With Fulltext
Appears in Collections:LKCMedicine Journal Articles
NBS Journal Articles

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