Technology-Based Early Warning Systems for Bipolar Disorder: A Conceptual Framework

JMIR Ment Health. 2016 Sep 7;3(3):e42. doi: 10.2196/mental.5798.


Recognition and timely action around "warning signs" of illness exacerbation is central to the self-management of bipolar disorder. Due to its heterogeneity and fluctuating course, passive and active mobile technologies have been increasingly evaluated as adjunctive or standalone tools to predict and prevent risk of worsening of course in bipolar disorder. As predictive analytics approaches to big data from mobile health (mHealth) applications and ancillary sensors advance, it is likely that early warning systems will increasingly become available to patients. Such systems could reduce the amount of time spent experiencing symptoms and diminish the immense disability experienced by people with bipolar disorder. However, in addition to the challenges in validating such systems, we argue that early warning systems may not be without harms. Probabilistic warnings may be delivered to individuals who may not be able to interpret the warning, have limited information about what behaviors to change, or are unprepared to or cannot feasibly act due to time or logistic constraints. We propose five essential elements for early warning systems and provide a conceptual framework for designing, incorporating stakeholder input, and validating early warning systems for bipolar disorder with a focus on pragmatic considerations.

Keywords: mHealth; prevention; psychiatry; psychotherapy; technology.