MindSphere: A Sensor-based strategy to evaluate the mental health of individuals and organizations

A Sensor-based strategy to evaluate the mental health of individuals and organizations

The recent spate of shootings [1] on school and college campuses across the United States and around the world have left entire communities devastated. These mostly pre-meditated acts of violence have their origins in the mental health of the perpetrator of the crime. Often, the perpetrators leave behind significant evidence. This evidence comes in various forms – diaries, YouTube videos, social network postings, logs of online transactions and observations by people who they interact with. Comprehensively, all this evidence can create a system with which the mental health of a person can be assessed to evaluate the need for help. However, such systems do not exist and often, investigations undertaken after a crime reveal the various pieces of the mental health status of the perpetrators of such crimes. We propose MindSphere, a simple way to track the mental health status of an individual. The MindSphere is a sensor in the shape of a ball that fits into the palm of a person’s hand. The MindSphere ball sensor is divided into three sections that are color-coded. Each of these sections has a button, and an internal circuitry records the time stamp of each press of the button. The three colors for the three sections: red, orange and green stand for the following emotions:
a. Red: Frustrated, enraged, humiliated, vengeful, depressed, withdrawn or similar other emotions that indicate that a person is feeling antagonistic
b. Green: Happy, serene, or similar other emotions that indicate that a person is feeling pleasant
c. Orange: Emotions that the individual can handle with some form of therapy, for e.g. meditation, medical interventions or similar techniques that can be used by a person to alleviate stressful situations

Operation of MindSphere:
The MindSphere ball sensor works in conjunction with the MindSphere database. A press of a button (event) generates data that is logged in to the MindSphere database. Thus, MindSphere falls into the category of event-generated sensing instead of continuous sensing [2]. The MindSphere database keeps logs of every button press. There is no limit to the number of button presses, so an individual can press a button as often or as rarely he /she intends to. This feature lends to its flexibility of use. Thus, an individual can press a button multiple times a day or once every few months to generate data. The reliance on the choice of MindSphere to record emotional states raises obvious questions regarding the efficiency and ease of use. While critics of this device can point to its efficiency only when voluntarily used, it should be noted that most perpetrators of above-mentioned crimes record their emotional state in voluntarily in various forms (diaries, journals, web logs and videos). A button press in MindSphere emerges as the simplest procedure through which a large volume of data pertaining to a person’s emotional state can be monitored.

The use of MindSphere relies on the assumption that a person has access to a) MindSphere ball and a cell phone for wireless access or b) MindSphere ball and a desktop computer for wired access. A low-power battery embedded inside the MindSphere ball powers its operation. When a person presses a button, a timestamp is generated. These timestamps are synchronized to the online MindSphere database through two modes of synchronization: wireless or wired access. For wireless synchronization, an app on the individual’s cell phone is synchronized with the MindSphere ball. The cell phone collects the timestamps and logs it into the MindSphere database. For wired access, the MindSphere can be plugged into a computer’s USB port and time stamps are recorded. The MindSphere database has read-only features. Thus, an individual can view their records but cannot alter the attributes to prevent intentional or unintentional tampering of data. In an organizational-setting (as opposed to an individual-use setting), a department or an individual can be assigned the role of viewing the MindSphere logs and gathering information from the MindSphere database. This could be the counseling staff in schools and colleges, or a human-resources coordinator in companies. Over a period of time, these time stamps generate valuable information about the mental state of a person, while still staying clear of violating an individual’s privacy.

Organizations such as schools and colleges can have the MindSphere distributed to students and the counseling department can keep track of students’ emotional well-being through the MindSphere database. This feature can be used to flag students who need help managing stress during their academic careers. The ease of use and versatility of the device make it useful for companies as well. Organizations can have a MindSphere for every employee and this data generated can be used to generate work-place environments that are engineered to maximize productivity and lower stress-levels. The data generated from these different kinds of organizations can be used to obtain information on the correlation of various events with the kinds of button-presses that are generated.

Aside from having the potential to identify people with increasingly violent tendencies, MindSphere can be used to identify and mitigate stressful environments. Current literature on the effects of stress on a person’s health points overwhelmingly to the need for home and work-place environments that promote well-being [3-6]. Some questions that can be investigated with the MindSphere are: Do freshmen and new employees have greater amount of stress (large number of red-button press events)? Are certain departments more conducive to greater amount of employee well-being compared to others (sales staff versus accounting staff)? Do certain events promote feelings of stress (holiday shopping, product launches, natural disasters)? Is there a certain level of stress that can be handled safely beyond which productivity stalls and people become antagonistic? The answers to these questions vary, and having quantitative data in the form of the MindSphere database logs can help us engineer our home and workplace environments for better mental health outcomes. Current literature on the effects of stress on a person’s health points overwhelmingly to the need for home and work-place environments that promote well-being. People can use MindSphere without being a part of corporate or organization-wide programs for mental health. A person can simply keep track of his/her mental states over time, and use it as part of their holistic well-being strategies.

1. Campus attacks: Targeted violence affecting institution of higher education. A Report by the United States Secret Service, United States Department of Higher Education and the FBI. http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/campus-attacks. Last accessed: June 6, 2014
2. Machado, Renita, and Sirin Tekinay. "A survey of game-theoretic approaches in wireless sensor networks." Computer Networks 52.16 (2008): 3047-3061.
3. Langner, Thomas S., and Stanley T. Michael. Life stress and mental health. New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1963.
4. Pearlin, Leonard I. "Stress and mental health: A conceptual overview." (1999).
5. North, Carol S., Elizabeth M. Smith, and Edward L. Spitznagel. "Posttraumatic stress disorder in survivors of a mass shooting." American Journal of Psychiatry151.1 (1994): 82-88.
6. O'Toole, Mary Ellen. The school shooter: A threat assessment perspective. DIANE Publishing, 2000.

View Project Files