Using Facebook to Predict Depression

Posted on January 19, 2019

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Based on the report by the World Health Organisation, it has been estimated that unipolar depressive disorders will be the leading cause of the global burden of disease by 2030. Despite such an alarming prediction, it remains underdiagnosed especially in youths and men. Thus, this propelled new research towards creating better screening and diagnostic tools for depression using the information provided by something we are all well acquainted with; social media.

A team of researchers devised an algorithm that enabled them to analyze social media data with the consent of users, to pick out linguistic cues that might predict the onset of depression. Their participants included individuals who had received a diagnosis of depression in their lives, and those who had not, analyzing their Facebook status updates from the years leading up to their diagnosis in the former and for a parallel period in the latter.

These researchers then determined a range of what they referred to as depression-associated language markers that depicts emotional and cognitive cues including “sadness, loneliness, hostility, rumination, and increases self-reference”. These linguistic markers have been found to predict depression with a significant accuracy of up to 3 months before an individual formally receives a diagnosis.

Due to its significant findings, the researchers believe that this could be a feasible scalable complement to existing screening and monitoring procedures and hopes that one day it could be integrated into systems of care. However, their eventual goal is to be able to carry out further action through their findings, scanning social media to find these markers and then directly funneling individuals identified into scalable treatment modalities so that early intervention could take place before the depression gets too severe or possibly even before a formal diagnosis can be made.

Though there has been much research that shows the negatives of social media, this study does provide evidence of its beneficial use and its potential to be an important tool for diagnosing, monitoring, and even for treatment. It is a step towards using social media to improve mental health.


Source material from Medical News Today

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