Thursday, 11 June 2009

State of 'goldfish bowl' on cell phone alerts user to stress levels

Tokai University in Kanagawa Prefecture and a Tokyo company have jointly developed a system to alert people to their own stress levels by representing their answers to a checklist of questions with visual imagery on their cell phones and personal computers. The so-called ‘‘Fish Bowl Index’’ of mental health, devised to help prevent suicides, uses images of red and black goldfish, a bowl and a cat to illustrate a person’s mood.

For example, the red goldfish represents users themselves and gets more and more injured depending on the level of physical stress a user reports. The black goldfish becomes more and more aggressive depending on the level of stress the user reports in relationships with others. The cat indicates social stress and tries to eat the goldfish if its levels rise while the bowl shows stress at home and cracks if stress levels increase. If the system judges the user is experiencing mental health problems, it indicates where to go for consultations.

The mental health checker was developed as an early detection system two years ago by Tokai University for patients suffering from depression. Its partner the Tokyo-based Sakurai Co began selling the system mainly to corporate health insurance societies in February.

‘‘We are worried that the number of suicides may increase further as the severe economic situation is continuing,’’ a Sakurai official said. ‘‘We’d like people to use the system as a thermometer for the mind.’’

The number of suicides topped 30,000 for the 11th consecutive year in 2008 and the central government earmarked about 10 billion yen in the fiscal 2009 supplementary budget to support measures by local governments to prevent suicides.

Several municipalities in the Tokyo metropolitan areas are now considering introducing the health check system.