You might think that Instagram is just for heavily-filtered brunch snaps and smug selfies, but scientists have found that your grid reveals a lot more about you than what you got up to at the weekend.
And it was so successful that they were able to develop a program that can diagnose depression with 70% accuracy, compared to an average of 42% correct unassisted diagnosis by GPs.
Dr Christopher Danforth, study co-author said: “With an increasing share of our social interactions happening online, the potential for algorithmic identification of early-warning signs for a host of mental and physical illnesses is enormous.
“Imagine an app you can install on your phone that pings your doctor for a check-up when your behavior changes for the worse, potentially before you even realize there is a problem.”
The team from the University of Vermont looked at a grand total of 43,950 photographs posted by 166 users, 71 of whom had already been diagnosed with depression by a doctor
The computer program then scoured their images posted to the social media platform for details that have been previously linked to healthy and depressed individuals.
“Photos posted by people diagnosed with depression tended to be darker in color, received more comments from the community, were more likely to contain faces and less likely to have a filter applied.
“When they did select a filter they were more likely to use the filter that converted color images to black and white. People diagnosed with depression also posted at a higher frequency compared to non-depressed individuals.”
And using these factors, they were able to almost double the likelihood of correctly diagnosing a patient with the technology, compared to a doctor in a consultation.
Dr Andrew Reece said: “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 demonstrate that the markers of depression can be observed in posts made prior to the person receiving a clinical diagnosis of depression.”
Although the team were also quick to say that the study only provides a limited diagnosis of depression, classifying it as a single-faceted condition, without consideration of other health conditions that may be present too.
“Future research should seek to address the reliability of the computer model against more finely tuned definitions of depressive disorders, according to the researchers,” said the team.
Approximately 10% of the UK population will experience depression at some point in their lifetime, according to the NHS, and currently 4% of children aged five to sixteen-years-old are anxious or depressed.
Useful websites and helplines:
Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393 Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.) Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org