Your Instagram Post Could Reveal You're Depressed Suggests New Study

A new study suggests Instagram may give a better snapshot of your mental health than even your doctor.

Do you agree with the well-known proverb, "A picture is worth a thousand words?"

Well, when it comes to Instagram, a new study has discovered that there might very well be some truth behind the saying.

Christopher Danforth of the University of Vermont and Andrew Reece of Harvard University developed a computer tool that could determine whether or not an Instagram user is showing signs of depression based on their posts, and published their findings in the journal EPJ Data Science.  

The researchers noted that from their tool, they could correctly identify depression in 70 percent of their study's participants, a percentage greater than that of a doctor.

They evaluated nearly 44,000 photos from 166 people, 71 of whom had a history of depression. As part of the study, participants filled out questionnaires to determine their depression levels.

Reece and Danforth wrote,

“Health care providers may be able to improve quality of care and better identify individuals in need of treatment based on the simple, low-cost methods outlined in this report. Given that mental health services are unavailable or underfunded in many countries, this computational approach, requiring only patients’ digital consent to share their social media histories, may open avenues to care which are currently difficult or impossible to provide."

The photos were assessed on the number of faces and the numbers of likes received, as well as their color scheme.

Results revealed that the depressed participants were more likely to post more pictures with faces, even though they seemed to have fewer face per photo. Results revealed that the depressed individuals preferred to use darker colors in the pictures they posted. That pertained to not only editing photos, but filters as well.

Those who were diagnosed with depression were tremendously likely to use Inkwell, which is a black and white filter, or none at all.

In other words, people suffering from depression were more likely to favor a filter that literally drained all the color out the images they wanted to share. Those without depression “disproportionately favored the Valencia filter, which lightens the tint of photos”, the study reads.


There’s no need to panic if you prefer a darker monochromatic setting when it comes to your Instagram pics. And you don't need to text your friend to let them know you think they're depressed because they've changed their Instagram filter. This observation is just a general finding, and this is in no way a diagnosis.  

The two authors of this study said their research was limited by a small sample size, and while the findings cannot be applied to every Instagram user, they do provide a "blueprint for effective mental health screening in an increasingly digitalized society."


Banner/thumbnail image credit: Flickr user Jason Howie

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