Computer Program Scans Instagram Feed for Signs of Depression

If you ask most people these days, they will tell you that all of social media is depressing. Of course, no one thinks of themselves as contributing to the negativity of the experience -- it's always someone else who is the problem.

Now, a new computer program can check a user's Instagram account to see if said user is suffering from depression.

New research backs that up, with scholars at Harvard University and the University of Vermont able to teach a computer to spot depressed people with surprising accuracy — just by scanning their Instagram photos.

For the study, researchers first analyzed thousands of pictures from 166 Instagram users, 71 of whom had a history of depression. They found the depressed individuals posted photos that were bluer, darker and grayer than images posted by others.

Depressed people also favored Inkwell, an Instagram filter that turns photos black and white. Their photos were sadder and they tended to post pictures that had fewer faces in them per photo — perhaps because they were around fewer people or preferred to take selfies, the study authors theorize.

A computer program designed to spot those details then scoured the photos and correctly identified depressed people 70 percent of the time. In comparison, doctors diagnose depressed patients correctly only 42 percent of the time, previous research suggests.

Using these criteria, I'm ready for intravenous Zoloft right now. I rarely post pictures with faces in them. It's mostly food, booze and cat pics, which probably could be construed as pathetic, but probably not depressed.

I did, however, just use the Inkwell filter for the first time in quite a while a week ago today. In defense of my mental health, there were three human faces in that picture.

Kidding aside for the moment, the fact that an Instagram feed can be accurate in predicting depression is indicative of how social media has evolved in such a short time. The frequent lament is that we spend more time staring at our phones than we do other people, even when we are with them.

Now it seems we may be--pardon the pun--more unfiltered with our phones than we are with other people.

As someone who has been monitoring and professionally utilizing social media daily for almost a decade, I would be greatly interested in seeing something like this developed for Facebook posts.

Oversharing has become the norm on Facebook lately, and not a lot of it is positive. I often see status updates shared that make me wonder if I should tell the person to reach out for help. If people are revealing their depression on Instagram, it probably isn't a stretch to worry about someone who spends weeks or months on end complaining about his or her life on Facebook every day.