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Ground-breaking bipolar app to detect early onset of mania

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A ground-breaking new app developed by national mental health organisation SANE Australia will soon alert people living with bipolar to the potential onset of mania, as well as notify a nominated loved one or mental health professional, to help prevent the often destructive consequences of mania.

The announcement coincides with World Bipolar Day (Thursday March 30) with SANE Australia calling for 400 people to take part in a three-month non-clinical trial of the app commencing in July.

The technology could revolutionise the way episodes of mania are managed by allowing earlier detection. The app works by monitoring the way a person living with bipolar interacts with their digital devices, including mobile phone. The app continuously maps a person’s everyday interaction with technology to identify changes to their regular behaviour.

 

If potentially harmful patterns are detected, the individual living with bipolar and their nominated trusted person are both alerted to allow action to prevent the worst impacts of an episode of mania. The real-time data can also be shared with mental health professionals to help inform ongoing treatment.

Gandel Philanthropy provided seed funding for the app’s development and non-clinical trial.

SANE Australia Chief Executive Officer Jack Heath explains the app is the first of its kind in Australia to record and report information gained from a person’s everyday technology use and make this available to two people in a caring relationship.

“This app is an exciting step forward in harnessing technology to manage mental illness,” Mr Heath said.

“We know people living with bipolar are 15 times more likely to die by suicide and we hope this app will help contribute to a reduction in avoidable deaths,” Mr Heath said.

University of New South Wales Head of Psychiatry Professor Philip Mitchell said this app could help people living with bipolar to ward off the impacts of an episode of mania which can be severe and long-lasting.

“All too often mania is only detected only when it’s too late to take preventative action and this can have terrible impacts for not only the individual, but also for those close to them,” Professor Mitchell said.

“Mania can lead to drug use, intense irritability, excessive spending, gambling, extreme sexual promiscuity, delusion, paranoia and hallucination, and can have consequences including employment loss, loss of savings and relationship breakdowns.”

SANE Australia Speaker Jesse Millar lives with bipolar and knows these consequences of mania all too well.

"During periods of mania, I lose sight of the priorities in my life, the ability to listen to those around me, and I’m not able to manage my life effectively, “Jesse said.

“All I want to do is ‘feed the high’, whether that be by excessive spending, drinking, overworking, not sleeping, or any other means, I just want to run wild.”

Jesse’s wife Ash Millar explains her husband’s episodes of mania also impact his family and much heartache could be avoided if the episodes could be prevented.

“When my husband is in a period of mania, I become confused and disheartened, unsure of the man I will wake up next to,” Ash said.

“It’s an immensely stressful time for me as I set aside my own needs and find myself feeling guilty as it becomes increasingly difficult to support his mental illness.”

SANE Australia has developed the app with the support and guidance of people living with bipolar disorder, as well as mobile technology specialist Dr Rod Farmer, Faruk Avdi, Isobar Australia, Mobile Experience and UNSW Head of Psychiatry Professor Philip Mitchell.

People interested in taking part of the trial can register their interest here.

Last updated: 31 March, 2017