Background: Research in mental health has found associations between depression and individuals' behaviors and statuses, such as social connections and interactions, working status, mobility, and social isolation and loneliness. These behaviors and statuses can be approximated by the nearby Bluetooth device count (NBDC) detected by Bluetooth sensors in mobile phones. Objective: This study aimed to explore the value of the NBDC data in predicting depressive symptom severity as measured via the 8-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-8). Methods: The data used in this paper included 2886 biweekly PHQ-8 records collected from 316 participants recruited from three study sites in the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom as part of the EU Remote Assessment of Disease and Relapse-Central Nervous System (RADAR-CNS) study. From the NBDC data 2 weeks prior to each PHQ-8 score, we extracted 49 Bluetooth features, including statistical features and nonlinear features for measuring the periodicity and regularity of individuals' life rhythms. Linear mixed-effect models were used to explore associations between Bluetooth features and the PHQ-8 score. We then applied hierarchical Bayesian linear regression models to predict the PHQ-8 score from the extracted Bluetooth features. Results: A number of significant associations were found between Bluetooth features and depressive symptom severity. Generally speaking, along with depressive symptom worsening, one or more of the following changes were found in the preceding 2 weeks of the NBDC data: (1) the amount decreased, (2) the variance decreased, (3) the periodicity (especially the circadian rhythm) decreased, and (4) the NBDC sequence became more irregular. Compared with commonly used machine learning models, the proposed hierarchical Bayesian linear regression model achieved the best prediction metrics (R2=0.526) and a root mean squared error (RMSE) of 3.891. Bluetooth features can explain an extra 18.8% of the variance in the PHQ-8 score relative to the baseline model without Bluetooth features (R2=0.338, RMSE=4.547). Conclusions: Our statistical results indicate that the NBDC data have the potential to reflect changes in individuals' behaviors and statuses concurrent with the changes in the depressive state. The prediction results demonstrate that the NBDC data have a significant value in predicting depressive symptom severity. These findings may have utility for the mental health monitoring practice in real-world settings.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere29840
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


  • Bluetooth
  • Depression
  • Digital biomarkers
  • Digital health
  • Digital phenotyping
  • Hierarchical Bayesian model
  • Mental health
  • MHealth
  • Mobile health
  • Monitoring


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