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Depression among college students is a growing problem that affects about one-third of the college population, according to the American Psychological Association. The Mayo Clinic reports that while many types of people suffer from depression, college students face a unique set of difficulties that make them more vulnerable than most groups.  The chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Wright State University School of Medicine said the rate of depression in college students has doubled in the past 15 years.

Many measures of depression and anxiety are one-time statements of how people feel in general, usually collected in clinical settings. Researchers from University of Virgina’s Department of Psychology and School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Missouri University of Science and Technology’s Department of Computer Science wanted to find out if depression and social anxiety correlated to spending time at home. To test their hypothesis, the researchers recruited and qualified 63 students who owned Android smartphones. After an initial baseline measurement of depression and anxiety using traditional self-report tests, the app for the study was installed on their phones. The app polled student locations via the phones’ onboard GPS and collected self-reported emotional state repeatedly for two weeks using four different timing models. The results were not unexpected, but affirmed that higher social anxiety was associated with more time spent at home. They also found that higher levels of social anxiety and depression increased the likelihood the students would stay home to following day.

Followup studies with larger groups and with clinical subjects are in order. The demonstration of GPS data used with self-reported measures enabled the researchers to poll students as they went about their normal lives. This method added objective location data to subjective reporting, rather than relying on assessments of anxiety and depression when the students were in a clinical setting.