Using Big Data to Find out R U OK?

Today is R U OK Day, a wonderful initiative that brings to the forefront how difficult it is to discuss mental health and provides a platform to do such things.

Big Data is providing some much needed help in the management of mental health within the community. Recently, the Australian community health provider Mind deployed Big Data management QlikView. This platform is expected to indirectly assist the 18 000 Australians that Mind works with, by combining the significant amount of data on clients, employees, finance and business targets, which needs to be analysed and acted upon in real time. By linking data sources together, this program allows a holistic view of what is occurring in the not-for-profit and how employees should support the members in the most effective manner.

Other sources of big data are providing promising for mental health research; popularisation of technologies such as fitness trackers and apple watch, as well as a dramatic uptake in use of diet and exercise apps have allowed physical activity, sleep patterns and location tracking data sets to be easily obtained. Big technological corporations have not missed this opportunity, offering a number of devices and cloud services which could store and integrate all the health data generated (e.g., Apple’s Health, Google Fit). Some of these companies incorporated data gathered through these applications onto promising platforms (Apple Research kit and Google Study kit, respectively).

There are seven V’s that all big data systems aim to achieve: volume, velocity, variety, variability, veracity, visualisation, and value. The fitness trackers and applications add a very important component in “velocity”, allowing users and overall trackers to receive continuous and real‐time data collection in the subject’s own environment. Additionally, users’ interactions with their mobile devices and their respective sensors could provide passive, objective information about their behaviour patterns.

One problem affecting not only mental health study, but all studies reliant on Big Data collected by mobile technologies,is that of fragmentation. The market fragmentation of current mobile operating systems (Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Blackberry, etc.) and smartphones ownership is growing concern in with tracking and collating data. The fragmentation in the market of wearable devices is much more problematic, with more than 20 companies offering these products, which are continuously feeding information to independent databases.

Beyond issues of fragmentation, concerns of what information can be and should be collated to provide this holistic view is also at the forefront. Like when you sign up to a MyerOne card, your permission is necessary for your data to be included in the “Big Data” horde. However, unlike the purchases that you make at Myer the information you provide is both (1) pertinent to improving health and treatment for all and (2) incredibly confidential. Whether or not due to the stigma attached to mental health, people are more hesitant to agree to share their information regarding such matters.

Slower or not than retail information, Big Data is steadily being used in mental health areas. Just as the name suggests though, Big Data only becomes powerful with a large number of users contributing. The concern is how you make users feel safe and comfortable while still collecting their information to assist themselves and others.


What other health concerns have you seen Big Data abase?

What possibilities do you see in the future?


2 thoughts on “Using Big Data to Find out R U OK?

  1. Tim says:

    The use of these platforms in sharing data have a number of potential health benefits, however we need to be cautious and look at how the data is analyzed and communicated and who is doing it. Even in the health sector information can be manipulated to achieve a marketing aim that makes not be focused on profit rather than improving health. Insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies come to mind.


    • variablyinteresting says:

      It’s always a shame but a fact of life that we have to be careful of manipulation of data in the seeking of profits. however, as for-profit companies are forced to be more open about their testing methodologies I feel we are getting closer to a time where we don’t have to differentiate between doing something for the benefit of society, and for the benefits of shareholders.


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