How individuals monitor and measure their mental health

How Individuals Monitor and measure their mental health through quantifying their body in the age of personal devices 

Mobile and wearable digital devices connected to Web applications can monitor and measure our bodies. We, as consumers, can take note of the health data and share it with doctors. The health promotion industry is keen on these technologies to promote public health. Nevertheless, lay people outside of health promotion are using them. Quantifying body measurements, also known as “the quantified self,” can lead us to a situation where people constantly measure their bodies. There are pros and cons and an ongoing debate on using technology for this purpose (Lupton). 

I will review the technologies currently available. I discuss how those technologies relate to health, embodiment and identity concepts. I will focus on wearable devices such as smartwatches, which help support mental health treatment. 

First, it is evident that the wearable watches’ measurements are numbers and can provide some measurements of heart rate, temperature, and sweat. They can make people aware of their temperature or pulse or if they are sweating. However, they cannot measure moods and feelings, such as stress, fatigue, anxiety, and fear which furthers our understanding of our psychological state that comes from those numbers. Therefore, there are limitations to using a wearable watch that can measure bodily states. The eye cannot make you do anything about the issue; it can only notify you. It might ask you to check in on your feelings. However, it cannot help you change them.

Nevertheless, there is also much potential for wearable devices. To realize that potential designers and developers may consider adding different features which help the wearer identify their emotional stress levels and extrapolate from those measures to their internal states. In the future, designers might prepare for ‘the ideal design’ through AI technology. 

At present, devices are in the early stages of development. Health industry workers are very keen to promote these devices. In health promotion literature, they offer a positive view of introducing these devices to the system. This is because the devices are expected to move personal healthcare toward the values of autonomy and authenticity. The article “Quantifying the Body Monitoring and Measuring Mental Health” (Lupton, 2013) studies how these values are enacted in their practices, which can open the way for a new set of questions. Some examples of solidarity, autonomy, and authenticity related to the quantified self are here.

Solidarity is the shared practice that reflects a commitment to carry financial (taxes), social, and emotional costs. For example, solidarity influences consumers to purchase the same smartwatch brands as their smartphones.  An example of autonomy is using self-monitoring techniques such as watches for independent living. Authenticity relates to an individual’s health, psyche, and self. For example, a ‘wearable’ such as a watch can notify them that they must check in on their feelings because their heart rate is too high. That is an authentic reading. If notifications from a wearable device could say, ‘Get a drink of water’ if your temperature is too high, that would be an example of solidarity- taking action. These notifications could assist a person with their mental health by making other recommendations; for example, monitor your location, use your stress ball and scripts, and work on managing your stress best when it happens.

A mobile device with mental health features works for the patient who needs only the reminder that she needs a break because her heart rate is too high. It is better than nothing but it I not a cure-all. The problem is that the watch can notify you but cannot replace insight; it requires the wearer to understand and follow through with interpretation and analysis. For example, it might say, ‘Your heart rate has increased.’ The wearer has to ask herself, ‘Is this because I am feeling stressed?’. Moreover, if she answers yes, the wearer has to decide on an action –  to take a break, start deep breathing, or go for a walk. With discipline and understanding, the wearer might notice the notifications. That is the inherent problem of using devices as mental health quantifiers. 

Self-tracking aims to analyze problems and provide the framework for self-tracking for health. (Sharon, 11) However, for mental health concerns, there are downsides.

One downside is that it might make a person anxious to see all these numbers rating you. Another downside is the question of follow-up. Insight is a human quality that cannot be delivered by technology. In a future design of mental health tracking technology, would the biometrics (heart rate temperature) be followed by AI-generated questions such as, ‘Are you feeling okay?’ and ‘Do you need a break.’ Wearable technologies would be more useful if they acted more like a human. Also, it would be more helpful if it had a memory and could plan activities. For example, if you are at a marina with some screaming kids, you might be getting in a boat! However, the device already knows you could get terrified in a boat. And especially with these noisy people. The last time you did that, you had an anxiety attack. It could send you an alarm: Do not go on the boat!

However, they cannot do that now. Wearable devices can tell you lots, but they cannot give insight or motivation, and they do not care about how a human is tuned in to signs of stress the way another human would be. 

Devices could be more effective mental health quantifiers if they had additional features. An example of a new feature would be a microphone that could monitor the pitch and loudness of our voices. A device with a built-in decibel monitor or loudness meter could measure the decibels or pitch of the wearer while conversing or arguing with others. For example, a higher-pitched or thunderous voice would register rising emotions. A microphone could also measure the sound in a noisy room, which may cause anxiety to a wearer who may be sensitive to the effects of noise, for example, people with tinnitus or head injury. Furthermore, the increasing noise level may interfere with conversation or hearing – increasing noise can damage hearing. Noise, in general, is stressful. Not hearing conversation can make a person feel depressed or isolated.

Within the health industry, these devices show how the treatment is shifting attention to practices that allow people to be active in their health care. These values of self-help challenge the concerns in the debate on self-tracking. 

Wearable devices also play a role in fitness or fatness by measuring activity. This relates to mental health. Fitness/Fatness of the body is another category society uses to judge bodies as attractive versus unattractive (Zitzelsberger 13). While fitness is a good goal, too much quantification of the body’s activity can lead to obsession with calorie intake and body size and shape and can encourage disorders too. 

Wearable devices have a future in psychological interventions. Study respondents show interest in them, significantly if in-person therapies have not helped them. However, they would prefer guidance in their use. Clinicians need to provide integrated systems for clients. 

The use of devices needs to be seen as adequate for clients to want to use them, and clinicians must also ensure that they adequately inform clients about the base for wearable devices, which is currently limited. The acceptability of wearable devices in using present data suggests strong potential for incorporating them into clinical care, provided that their risks and benefits are evaluated for each client and their treatment scenario (Hunkin, 2).

Therefore, the idea of quantifying mental health is a valuable one. There are already several wearable devices in the market which claim to help consumers quantify mental health. I have shown in the paper that these wearable devices have some potential to cue wearers of some bodily changes, which indirectly may reflect mental health states. Ultimately, devices must be more sophisticated to live up to their promise. 


Agamben, G. (2011). “Identity without the Person,” in Nudities. Stanford, C.A.: Stanford University Press, pp. 46–54.

Anacabana. “‘wearable’ Technology for Mental Health.” Amelia Virtual Care, 30 June 2022,

Fleming, LaKeisha. “Wearable Tech and the Future of Mental Health Care.” Verywell Mind, 12 Sept. 2022,

Hugh, Hunkin. Perceived acceptability of wearable devices for the treatment of mental health problems. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 2020; 76(6):987-1003

Lupton, Deborah. “Quantifying the Body: Monitoring and Measuring Health in the Age of mHealth Technologies,” Critical Public Health, May 2013. (Open Access)  (PDF) Quantifying the Body: Monitoring and Measuring Health in the Age of mHealth Technologies

Malacrida, Claudia, and Jacqueline Low. “Chapter 19.” Sociology of the Body: A Reader, Oxford University Press, Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, 2016.

Sharon, T. Self-Tracking for Health and the Quantified Self: Re-Articulating Autonomy, Solidarity, and Authenticity in an Age of Personalized Healthcare. Philos. Technol. 30, 93–121 (2017).

Emily  Honderich  - Copyright eRose Graohics
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