Using more pronouns like “I” and “me” are two signs that someone is depressed, new research finds.
Other words used in social media that might indicate depression include increased references to hostility and loneliness, like “feelings” and “tears”.
The study suggests computers may be able to spot the signs of depression just from social media posts.
The computer algorithm was just as effective as directly getting someone to complete a depression questionnaire, the study revealed.
Dr H. Andrew Schwartz, who led the research, said:
“What people write in social media and online captures an aspect of life that’s very hard in medicine and research to access otherwise.
It’s a dimension that’s relatively untapped compared to biophysical markers of disease.
Considering conditions such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD, for example, you find more signals in the way people express themselves digitally.”
The study used the Facebook posts of 1,175 people that were matched up with their medical records to confirm any depression diagnosis.
The computer was as effective at diagnosing depression as a self-report scale, the results showed.
People who used more first-person pronouns like “I” were more likely to be depressed, as were those using phrases that suggested rumination and anxiety.
Dr Johannes Eichstaedt, the study’s first author, said:
“Social media data contain markers akin to the genome.
With surprisingly similar methods to those used in genomics, we can comb social media data to find these markers.
Depression appears to be something quite detectable in this way; it really changes people’s use of social media in a way that something like skin disease or diabetes doesn’t.”
Dr Schwartz said:
“There’s a perception that using social media is not good for one’s mental health, but it may turn out to be an important tool for diagnosing, monitoring, and eventually treating it.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal PNAS (Eichstaedt et al., 2018).