Digital Phenotyping and Digital Psychotropic Drugs: Mental Health Surveillance Tools That Threaten Human Rights

(Dec 2020)

Cosgrove, L., Karter, J.M., McGinley, M., Morrill, Z. Harvard Health and Human Rights 2020 Dec, 22(2): 33-39

Digital technologies and tools hold much promise. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how helpful telehealth platforms and mental health applications (apps) can be in a time of quarantine and social distancing. However, such technologies also pose risks to human rights at both the individual and population levels. For example, there are concerns not just about privacy but also about the agency and autonomy of the person using mental health apps. In this paper, we describe what digital phenotyping is, how it is used to predict mood, and why we ought to exercise caution before embracing it as a means of mental health surveillance. We also discuss the United States’ recent regulatory approval of the first-ever “digital” drug, an antipsychotic (aripiprazole) embedded with a sensor. Digital aripiprazole was developed in order to increase medication compliance, but we argue that it may undermine a rights-based approach in the mental health field by reinforcing coercive practices and power imbalances. The global dissemination and promotion of these apps raise human rights concerns. Read more