Life stress is a well-established risk factor for a variety of mental and physical health problems, including anxiety disorders, depression, chronic pain, heart disease, asthma, autoimmune diseases, and neurodegenerative disorders. The purpose of this article is to describe emerging approaches for assessing stress using speech, which we do by reviewing the methodological advantages of these digital health tools, and the validation, ethical, and privacy issues raised by these technologies. As we describe, it is now possible to assess stress via the speech signal using smartphones and smart speakers that employ software programs and artificial intelligence to analyze several features of speech and speech acoustics, including pitch, jitter, energy, rate, and length and number of pauses. Because these digital devices are ubiquitous, we can now assess individuals' stress levels in real time in almost any natural environment in which people speak. These technologies thus have great potential for advancing digital health initiatives that involve continuously monitoring changes in psychosocial functioning and disease risk over time. However, speech-based indices of stress have yet to be well-validated against stress biomarkers (e.g., cortisol, cytokines) that predict disease risk. In addition, acquiring speech samples raises the possibility that conversations intended to be private could one day be made public; moreover, obtaining real-time psychosocial risk information prompts ethical questions regarding how these data should be used for medical, commercial, and personal purposes. Although assessing stress using speech thus has enormous potential, there are critical validation, privacy, and ethical issues that must be addressed.
Keywords: Life stress; digital health; ethics; privacy; speech; voice.