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Pictures don’t lie! Instagram feeds may help diagnose depression

Posted on 08-16-2017 Posted in Depression, Depression Rehab - 0 Comments

Someone who is depressed has a particular way of doing things, and this may be reflected in the photographs they post to their social media accounts. Now, a team of researchers has found a way to use these posts to identify people with depression. According to a recent study published in the EPJ Data Science journal, a machine learning program could be better than doctors at diagnosing depression in individuals.

The study by the researchers from Harvard University and University of Vermont involved approximately 44,000 Instagram photographs posted by 166 participants. Of these, 71 had been previously diagnosed with depression. While primary care doctors are known to be successful only 42 percent of the times at diagnosing depression, according to the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Andrew G. Reece, Department of Psychology, Harvard University, the computer software designed to scan images, for signs of depression, was able to provide an accurate diagnosis seven out of 10 times.

“Although we had a relatively small sample size, we were able to reliably observe differences in features of social media posts between depressed and non-depressed individuals. Importantly, we also demonstrated that the markers of depression can be observed in posts made prior to the person receiving a clinical diagnosis of depression,” Dr. Reece said.

Darker images indicate depression

When compared with the photographs shared by healthy participants, the pictures shared by depressed individuals were darker, grayer and bluer. Though depressed participants were less likely to use any image filters, when they did use one, they chose the black and white Inkwell filter, which drained all colors from the images.

Opposed to this, healthy people chose the Valencia filter, which made the photographs brighter and gave them a warmer look and feel. “Our results suggest that depression quite literally makes people see their world through a darker, grayer lens,” said Dr. Reece referring to the quality and overall feel of the photographs shared by the individuals suffering from depression.

The researchers also pointed out that depressed individuals were more likely to post photographs with faces. However, when compared to healthy individuals, those depressed had a lower average face count per photograph. Fewer faces might be an indication of smaller group settings and also corroborate previous researchers linking depression to reduced social interaction.

Calling their study a preliminary work, the researchers advocated further exploration. “This…needs to be more thoroughly tested, vetted and replicated before we can safely claim that an algorithm can truly identify markers of depression in Instagram posts,” said Dr. Reece.

According to Dr. Christopher M. Danforth, Computational Story Lab, University of Vermont, “This study is not yet a diagnostic test, not by a long shot. But it is a proof of concept of a new way to help people.”

In a previous research, Instagram was ranked the worst for mental health. Although the photo-sharing application had been ranked higher in providing users with a platform for self-expression and community building, it had also been identified as having the most deteriorating effect on an individual’s mental health. Instagram was followed by Snapchat and Facebook for driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in people.

Depression needs professional intervention

Depression, a common but serious mental illness, negatively affects the way a person feels, thinks, and acts. In 2015, an estimated 16.1 million American adults suffered from at least one major depressive episode in the previous year. Causing one to experience perpetual feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, depression can lead to a variety of physical and psychological problems.

A leading substance abuse treatment and behavioral health care provider, Sovereign Health treats all its patients holistically. Offering each patient tailor-made treatment modalities, Sovereign’s depression treatment center in Florida combines medication with evidence-based therapies to provide a comprehensive recovery program that would prevent any relapse. To know more about our depression treatment in Florida as well as other mental health treatment programs available at our state-of-the-art facility, call our 24/7 helpline number. You can even chat online with one of our representatives for further assistance.

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