Instagram—a beloved social media platform, which allows people to share their favorite memories with their friends, from pictures of their most recent whereabouts to pictures of the immaculate ice cream cone they’re trying right now. This picture-based design certainly sets it apart from other platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, and is actually being used to break some ground in the health field: Scientists are experimenting with a new computer technology that can guess whether someone is depressed or not, just by sorting through their Instagram photos. It guessed right 70% of the time.
The experiment involved 166 different individuals—about half of which were recently diagnosed with depression—who shared a total of 43,950 Instagram photos with the researchers. The computer program took these photos and evaluated the colors in them, the number of faces featured, and the likes and comments that each picture received. It emerged that depressed individuals tended to post bluer, darker, or greyer pictures, without featuring many faces or other people. *Cue, everyone scrambling to pull up their own Instagram photos to make a self-diagnosis* Remember, this is a relatively small study with a small sample, which means we don’t know yet if this can translate to the average Instagrammer. Chris Danforth, co-director of the University of Vermont’s Computational Story Lab and author of this research article, told BuzzFeed News that this test is simply proof-of-concept, which could potentially predict early signs of depression.
While this experiment did not make any conclusive findings, nor was it meant to, the way many of us think about depression certainly aligns with trends found in the study. We typically picture a depressed individual as one who sees the world as a darker place and isolates him or herself. Again, this was reflected in the depressed participant’s darker pictures with less faces. However, it’s important to remember that not all cases of depression present themselves this way. Sometimes the one in the bunch with depression is the girl with the biggest smile and seemingly perfect life.
Don’t Jump Ahead of Yourself
You may notice that your friend has started posting some eerie pictures and you’re concerned. Well, don’t worry just yet. Though Instagram may help indicate whether an individual has depression, it is not a foolproof method. Your friend has to meet all of the criteria set forth by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), in order to be diagnosed with depression. So, while you can certainly keep their Instagram tendencies in mind, pay attention to these proven signs of depression and the DSM’s criteria:
- Five of the following occur during the same 2-week period, one of which is either a depressed mood and/or a loss of interest:
- He or she experiences a depressed state most of the day, virtually everyday, as recognized by thyself or by others.
- He or she has a significantly decreased interest in all or most activities for the majority of the day, nearly everyday.
- The individual gains or loses a significant amount of weight, or regularly experiences a decreased or increased appetite.
- He or she has insomnia or hypersomnia almost everyday.
- His or her psychomotor skills are hindered nearly everyday, as observed by others and not just self-reported.
- The individual feels fatigued or tired all of the time.
- He or she feels worthless or guilty all of the time.
- The individual’s ability to think, concentrate, or make decisions is diminished nearly every day.
- He or she has recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal ideation, and or has attempted suicide.
- The above symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impair everyday functioning.
- The depressive episode cannot be attributed to the physiological effects of a substance or other medical condition.
- The occurrence of the episode is not better explained by a specified or unspecified schizophrenia spectrum disorder or other psychotic disorder.
- The individual has never had a manic or hypomanic episode.
So not only should you pay attention to the types of Instagram photos they’re posting or not posting, but more importantly their eating habits, sleeping habits, overall mood, and overall functioning. It’s also a good idea to confront your friend about your concerns. They may just be waiting for someone to confirm their own worries or in need of some support. You can help them through this hard time and also help them get the treatment that they need.