New reports suggest that digital social networks could prove useful at various stages in mental healthcare – early detection, intervention, diagnosis and even service support.
Lots of the immediate benefits stem from the sheer scale of Facebook: it is estimated that 92% of UK adolescents use the site daily, according to Medical Xpress.
This large sample size of people, previously unobtainable in self-reporting surveys, allows researchers access to a wealth of data across different demographics.
This data includes information about status updates, the language used, emotions and topics, as well as conversation intensity.
Even photographs, and facial recognition software could offer additional insights into people’s mental wellbeing say Dr Becky Inkster.
Inkster, the lead-author on the paper, said: “Facebook is hugely popular and could provide us with a wealth of data to improve our knowledge of mental health disorders such as depression and schizophrenia.”
Facebook and Twitter will not only help in identifying signs of mental health, but also in treating it - Facebook already allows users to report any material they think might be indicative of suicidal thoughts.
Nia Charpentier, a spokesperson from Rethink Mental Illness told The Huffington Post UK: “This is an interesting new area, and more research is something that is hugely needed to ensure people can receive the best possible treatment and care for a mental illness.
“However, it‘s clear it is still very early days, with many considerations to take into account to fully grasp the complex relationship between social networking sites and our mental health.”