Media contact

Dan Wheelahan
UNSW Media Office
02 9385 1933 or 0435 930 465

Physical activity trackers that can also monitor our mood will be increasingly used to detect, diagnose and treat mental illness, according to one of America’s top mental health experts.

Distinguished neuroscientist and psychiatrist Dr Tom Insel will deliver the UNSW Wallace Wurth Lecture: Science and Technology: New Frontiers for Helping People with Mental Illness. He will discuss the potential for the technology sector to play a central role in monitoring and cultivating mental health.

“Technology can have a greater impact on mental healthcare than on the care for heart disease, diabetes, cancer or other diseases,” Dr Insel told Chicago Ideas Week last year.

“It could transform this area in the next five years,” he said.

Dr Insel, a former Director of the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) who joined Verily (formerly known as the Life Sciences Team at Google) in December 2015, sees potential in using Google’s analytics and data-mining tools to pilot new research on mental health.

Dr Insel’s research has examined the neural basis of complex social behaviours, including maternal care and attachment. He told last year he imagines creating “sensors that give you very objective measures of your behaviour”.

“We do that already for how many steps you’ve had and your activity,” Dr Insel said, referring to wearable technology such as Fitbits, “but this would be doing it for mood, for cognition, for anxiety. It’s really actually very doable.”

The sensors would measure sleep, movement, and involve taking clinical tests in order to measure mental health. Other tools could analyse language use for early signs of psychosis.

During his tenure at NIMH, Dr Insel focused on the genetics and neurobiology of mental disorders as well as transforming approaches to diagnosis and treatment. Prior to the NIMH, Dr Insel was Professor of Psychiatry at Emory University in Atlanta where he was founding director of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience and director of the Yerkes Regional Primate Center.  

The Wallace Wurth Lecture series is named after Wallace Charles Wurth, the University's first Chancellor.

What: Dr Tom Insel delivers the Wallace Wurth Lecture 'Science and Technology: New Frontiers for Helping People with Mental Illness'When: 5.30pm for 6.00pm, Monday 19 September 2016Where: Leighton Hall, The John Niland Scientia Building, UNSW Kensington campus

More information about the lecture is available here. Media places are limited and RSVP is essential. Please contact Dan Wheelahan, UNSW Media Office, +61 2 9385 1933, +61 435 930 465

Dr Insel will also give the keynote address at a one-day symposium on the interface between science, technology and human health ‘Humans and Machines: A quest for better mental health’ at UNSW on 15 September 2016. More information about this lecture is available here.


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