Measuring how fast people talk could be the latest breakthrough in diagnosing and treating depression.
Researchers from the University of Melbourne and the Centre of Psychological Consultation in Wisconsin have developed a way to measure speech patterns in relation to patients responding to treatment for depression.
"If speech is changing then something is going on in the brain," study co-author Dr Adam Vogel, head of speech neuroscience at the University of Melbourne, told ninemsn.
"That applies to dementia, depression and fatigue and other brain diseases. It's really a flag that something is going wrong and maybe something needs to be checked out."
In the study, 105 patients who were on depression medication called an automated telephone system and left samples of their speech. They recited the alphabet, explained how they felt and read a passage of text.
The researchers then ran the sound bites through a computer program that measured their timing, pitch and intonation to see if speech could provide a reliable indication of the severity of their depression and their response to treatment.
"It's very hard to listen to someone and then listen to them again and be able to tell how much they have changed," Dr Vogel said.
"Our computer software tells us how fast they were going and how much pause they have got and also how their pitch changes. Those things you can put numbers to, which makes it an objective assessment."
The researchers found that patients who spoke faster and had shorter pauses were responding best to treatment.
Now Dr Vogel would like to see the technology available to GPs and psychologists to assess rural patients who struggle to get to their health practitioner.
"Instead of having to come in and provide an assessment, they could just leave a voice sample and that can be analysed and used to tell if things have changed," Dr Vogel said.
"That technology is not available at a GP setting yet but that's where we'd like to head."