What Instagram Posts Can Tell Us About Depression

By Desiree Bowie 08/10/17

Researchers set out to determine if they could correctly identify markers for depression using an individual's Instagram page.

Hand holding Iphone and using Instagram application

On the surface, Instagram seems like a social app that allows us to share pics of our favorite people, food, memories, moments and cute selfies—but as it turns out, the mobile app may also be able to provide some insights into our mental states.

In a small study published this week in the journal EPJ Data Science, researchers set out to determine whether or not they could diagnose a person with depression by simply using elements of their Instagram account. The 166 participants in the study were asked questions about their mental health history to determine how many of them had been diagnosed with depression. 

Researchers used a computer software program to sift through nearly 44,000 pictures to extract specific data such as the color schemes and filters used in the photos, how many faces were featured in the photos and how many "likes" each photo received. Using this data, researchers were able to identify some key markers for depression in the participants who were previously undiagnosed with depression. 

According to the study's findings, depressed individuals were less likely to use filters to enhance their images and often had darker colors in their photos. When they did opt to use filters, they "disproportionately favored" Inkwell, which is a black and white filter. They also tended to have fewer people in their photos.

“It seems to be the case that people who are experiencing depression see the world in a darker, bluer fashion quite literally, and they spend less time in social groups,” study author Chris Danforth, co-director at the University of Vermont’s Computational Story Lab, told BuzzFeed.

Surprisingly, researchers state that they were able to correctly diagnose depression at a rate of 70% in this study while general practitioners have a 42% success rate of depression diagnosis.  

Danforth told the HuffPost that the small study is merely a "proof of concept" test to see if social media can be used to detect early warning signs of mental health issues. 

"The end goal of [the research] would be creating something that monitors a person’s voice, how they’re moving around and what their social network looks like―all the stuff we already reveal to our phones,” said Danforth. “Then that could give doctors a ping to check in or at least some insight. Because maybe there’s something going on that even the individual doesn’t recognize about their behavior."

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Desiree Bowie is a writer and movie lover from Los Angeles, California. Follow her on Twitter @dangerbowie