U-M experts wary of digital monitoring of mental health to help stop gun violence

By | September 16, 2019

A lack of evidence that mental illness is to blame for the U.S.’s spate of mass shootings has not deterred the Trump administration from considering proposed solutions to gun violence based on that belief. A recent one, called SAFEHOME, would use “real-time data analytics” and information gleaned from personal digital devices to identify individuals who might become violent. 

U-M researchers Emily Mower Provost and Melvin McInnis have analyzed speech in phone calls made by participants with bipolar disorder to help predict their moods and symptoms. They are cautious about the ability to draw conclusions regarding mental health from a person’s digital data, and expect that it would result in many false positives. Then, of course, there are privacy and civil liberty concerns about monitoring people through their gadgets.

According to McInnis, it would be better to use metrics to connect individuals with the care they need, rather than try to link behavior and a hypothetical outcome, like violence. “Technology and other medical monitoring systems should be used to empower the infirm and their care rather than incorrectly isolating them as dangerous elements of society,” says McInnis.