Smartphone surveys of mood and social stress might be useful in identifying mental changes in bipolar disorder patients, according to a pilot feasibility study by Stefani Schwartz of the department of psychiatry at Pennsylvania State University, Hershey, and her associates.

Ten bipolar disorder patients and 10 healthy controls recruited for the study were given smartphones and asked to complete surveys of mood and social stress twice a day at random for 14 days. The surveys included a visual analog scale to record ratings of mood, energy, speed of thoughts, and impulsivity, in which participants could choose any point along a scale of 0-100 by moving a sliding marker; and a Likert scale to measure social stress. For this part, participants revealed whether they were with others and whether they would rather be alone.

Completion rates were similar among the groups: a median of 95% in the bipolar disorder group and 88% in the healthy control group (P = 0.68). Median scores of the 14-day mean mood and energy in the bipolar disorder group were significantly lower in the bipolar disorder group, while speed of thoughts, impulsivity, and social stress were not significantly different between the groups. Median scores of the 14-day range for mood, speed of thoughts, and impulsivity did differ from the healthy controls, while energy and social stress did not differ significantly.

Prolonged monitoring might be required to detect prodromal symptoms of an impending major episode among patients with bipolar disorder, the authors wrote. Also, the findings are preliminary in light of many factors, including the small sample. Nevertheless, the techniques used in this study “could be investigated in subjects in different treatment settings to explore the sensitivity of detection of changes in symptoms,” the investigators wrote.

Read the article in the Journal of Affective Disorders ( ).