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Leow’s mental health research gains media coverage

Block Club Chicago Heading link

Richard and Loan Hill Department of Biomedical Engineering and Department of Psychiatry Professor Alex Leow

What if your phone could detect mental health stress by simply tracking typing patterns and keystrokes?

Richard and Loan Hill Department of Biomedical Engineering and Department of Psychiatry Professor Alex Leow and her team have created an iPhone app to better monitor users’ mood and cognition, which are indicators of mental health stress, and predict episodes of mania and depression.

The app, BiAffect, works by tracking users texting frequency, typos, typing speed, voice tone, and word choice, among other aspects to determine the neuropsychological state of individuals. This ongoing project began in 2015 with the initial study and BiAffect was later launched in 2018. However, the study and app are still being widely discussed through articles and talks such as Leow’s interview with Block Club Chicago.

The Block Club Chicago article discusses Leow’s computational research to better understand the human brain and could help people with bipolar disorder and other illnesses.

In the article, Leow states that the BiAffect app provides users with constant personalized data that can help detect mental illness. Texting frequency may point toward signs of a manic episode or the correlation between frequent typos and higher levels of depression she and her team have observed.

NPR Heading link

Leow’s mental health and bipolar research, specifically, was also recently featured in an NPR article detailing how Major General Gregg Martin’s bipolar diagnosis affected his time in the military and his recently published memoir to break down the stigma of mental health in the military.

In the article, Leow explains that the military often attracts individuals with mental health disorders, and specifically bipolar disorder, because of its high-stress environments, but often this can exacerbate bipolar symptoms.

The article also mentions that Leow first met Martin at the International Bipolar Foundation’s annual conference in 2023, where he gave the keynote speech.