Is It Possible To Predict Depression, Narcissism And Other Mental Illnesses Through Social Networks Like Facebook and Instagram?

Can the words we type and the filters we use on social media predict whether we are depressed or narcissistic?

Researchers at Stony Brook University and the University of Pennsylvania developed an algorithm that can accurately predict future depression by analyzing a person’s words in Facebook posts.

The findings suggest that four specific words are strong indicators of a future depression diagnosis.

Linguistic red flags

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used a newly developed algorithm to detect “linguistic red flags” that could indicate depression.

Study author H. Andrew Schwartz, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science at Stony Brook University, explains:

“What people write on social media and online captures an aspect of life that is very difficult in medicine and research to access otherwise. It is a relatively unexploited dimension compared to the biophysical markers of the disease.

It also says:

Conditions like depression, anxiety, and PTSD, for example, find more cues in the way people express themselves digitally.

The four words of warning

In the study of nearly 12,000 people, the researchers found that indicators of depression included:


  • Words like “tears” and “feelings.”
  • Use of first-person pronouns like “I.”
  • Mentions of hostility and loneliness.

The connection between social media and mental illness.

Other research focuses on filter selection. It turns out that the Instagram filter someone chooses can tell us their state of mind.

According to a study published in EPJ Data Science, social media and mental illness are linked. And the images that a person shares on Instagram (and the way they are edited) could offer insight into the signs of depression.

The study examined more than 40,000 Instagram posts from 166 topics. Researchers first identified study participants who were previously diagnosed with depression.

Then they used machine learning tools to identify patterns in people’s posts. There were differences between the way depressed and non-depressed people posted.

Those people who were depressed used to use the filters less often than people who were not depressed. And when they did use filters, the most popular was “Inkwell,” which converts photos to black and white.

His photos were also more likely to contain a face in them. In contrast, non-depressed Instagrammers were biased toward the “Valencia” image filter, which clears photos.

This is not the first time researchers have examined social media’s role in mental health.

As social media continues to become more ingrained in our society (when was the last time you spent an entire day away from Facebook / Instagram / Twitter / Snapchat?), Its role in our mental well-being is also being studied.

And some of the findings are, well, troubling. Let’s look at the role social media plays in mental illness.

Social media and depression

Social media can exacerbate feelings of depression. One study found that the more people actively engaged on social platforms, the more likely they were to feel depressed and anxious.

People who stayed with two or fewer platforms experienced a lower risk of depression and anxiety than those who engaged with seven to 11 different venues.

Even after controlling for other issues that could contribute to mental health illness and total time spent on platforms.

Although seven platforms sound a lot, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn add seven. Incorporate a dating app like Tinder or social chat apps like Kik and WeChat, and it’s easy to see how someone could be on so many platforms.

In a small study of young people in the UK, researchers identified Instagram as the social media platform most associated with negative feelings, such as depression, anxiety, loneliness, trouble sleeping, and bullying, and Snapchat followed closely.

Both platforms focus heavily on images, promoting feelings of inadequacy and fostering low self-esteem as people compare themselves to others.

And another study found that Facebook uses hurt how people felt moment to moment and how satisfied they were with their lives.

The more often people used Facebook over two weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels decreased, regardless of why they were using Facebook or how extensive their Facebook network was.

Although the study looked at just two weeks, it would be interesting to see the cumulative cost of life satisfaction over months and years.

Social media and loneliness

Although we have more ways than ever to stay in touch with people, including social media, loneliness is rising, especially among older adults.

An AARP study aged 45 and over found that 35 percent of them were alone and that 13 percent of lonely respondents felt they “have less deep connections now that they stay in touch with people who use the Internet.”.

Just because we like friends’ statuses or see their vacation photos doesn’t mean we feel connected to them; in fact, we may even be spending less time on in-person networking activities, such as volunteering, doing a hobby, or participating in organizations that interest us.

Researchers call it an epidemic of loneliness: it increases the risk factor for premature death even more than being obese.

It’s not just adults who are affected, either. A well-known study found that, even after controlling for factors such as gender, age, and perceived social support, the larger a teenager’s Facebook network, the more daytime cortisol they produced.

Cortisol is known as the stress hormone, and its elevated levels can cause anxiety and sleep disorders, among other things.

The researchers theorized that the number of friends people have on Facebook is positive up to a point, but then they reach a point of diminishing returns, where higher stress and cortisol levels take over.

Social media and narcissism

Social media also provides a platform for narcissists and people with narcissistic tendencies. Interestingly, a small 2010 study found that selfish people with low self-esteem were more active on Facebook.

That’s in line with another study that found that being addicted to Facebook often predicted narcissistic behavior and low self-esteem.

These people are likely to use social media to ‘feed the ego’ and control feelings of low self-worth with online validation.

Warning signs of a social media problem

Not everyone who uses social media has a mental health problem. Some people enjoy getting the latest cat videos or viewing photos of their grandchildren.

But being overly dependent on social media can be a problem for some and can make mental health problems like depression or anxiety worse. Could you have a problem with social media?

Here are some warning signs:

  • You are addicted to your smartphone, also known as nomophobia, mainly checking social media platforms.
  • Stay in touch with family and friends by commenting on their status updates, but you can’t remember the last time you spoke to one of them on the phone or even gasp! – I saw them in person.
  • Checking your social media platforms is the last thing you do before going to bed at night and the first thing you do when you wake up.
  • Panic if several hours have passed and you haven’t checked your social media accounts.
  • You become obsessed with the best way to “capture the moment” so that you can post about it.
  • You are often comparing yourself to people online.
  • You get upset if people haven’t commented on your updates, and you can even delete posts that didn’t get a meaningful reaction from others.
  • Whether you’re waiting in line at the bank, on the toilet, or stuck at a red light, you will find yourself “just signing up” on social media platforms, no matter where you are or how long you have.

Social Media and Mental Illness: Finding a Balance

Did you recognize yourself in the warning signs? It might be time to find a certain balance in your life on social media.

It is unrealistic to think we will completely isolate ourselves from social media, especially since all the effects are not harmful.

After all, it’s great to find a community that loves long-haired Chihuahuas as much as you do or seek information on complex topics, including mental health issues, from people who have already experienced it.

There are even websites where you can connect with licensed therapists to seek care from the comfort of your home.

And there could be a silver lining to all of this, according to the researchers who identified the link between people’s filter choice and depression.

It could help better target and help depressed people in underserved communities.

“This computational approach, which requires only digital consent from patients to share their social media stories, can open avenues for care that are currently difficult or impossible to provide,” the researchers say.

Here are some steps to develop a healthier relationship with social media.

Get an alarm clock. One way to monitor your use of social media is to use an actual alarm clock. Many of us keep our phones within easy reach because we use them as an alarm clock.

But that usually means scrolling through the night and checking to see what happened overnight, even before we got out of bed. Turn off your phone at night and use an old-school alarm.

Other than that, keep your phone in airplane mode starting at least an hour before bed. Challenge yourself to see how long you can be in the morning before turning it back on.

Your alarm will work in airplane mode, but it will not wake up to an attack of the senses on social media.

Call and meet with friends. It’s nice to “check-in” with friends online, but if you have friends and family that you haven’t had a real conversation with at some point, give them a call or schedule an update to see them in person.

Liking someone’s status cannot replace a real-life conversation. It is also likely that just as what you share online curates, so are your friends and family. They could be experiencing things they would not know about because they are not publicly posting about them.

Remember that everything you see online is not accurate. Filters and desktop publishing, and nifty subtitles look great, but they don’t tell the whole story.

While it can be difficult not to compare yourself to others, remember that what you are seeing on social media is only a tiny part of someone’s life and that it is usually edited to make it look its best. It is not all your reality.

The psychology of your newsfeed

“It is changing the way we have our conversations, it is changing our democracy, and it is changing our ability to have the conversations and relationships that we want with each other. And it affects everyone «.

Tristan Harris, a former Google intern ethicist, proclaimed in his TED talk:

“How a Handful of Tech Companies Control Billions of Minds Every Day.”

Technology is designed to grab and hold our attention by understanding and manipulating the science behind how our brains work. As Tristán asserts, technology is not neutral.

The former Google ethicist urges us to consider an alternative. Facebook no longer tries to keep us disconnected and engrossed on the internet and instead imagines a social media platform that helps you connect with your friends in real life.

Realizing the damage these platforms are causing to society, tech experts, including former Google and Facebook employees like Tristan, have come together to form the Center for Human Technology.

The group is planning a campaign called “The Truth About Technology,” which will aim to educate students, parents, and teachers about depression as a side effect of heavy social media use and other dangers of social media.

In addition to educating young people, the team wants to provide resources for engineers concerned about the programs they are developing by showing data on the health effects of different technologies and ways to make healthier products.

The group’s plans also include lobbying for laws to reduce the power of big tech companies.

Two examples include a bill that would commission research on the impact of technology on children’s health and a bill that would ban the use of digital robots without identification.

While changing social media habits should come from yourself, more humane technology offers healthier ways you can use these apps and websites without constantly fighting signals to keep you on the page and provides a better future for the mental health and stress levels of our children.

Final thoughts on social media and mental illness

  • The filters someone uses on Instagram can indicate whether they are depressed or not.
  • Social media has been associated with mental illnesses ranging from depression and anxiety to loneliness and narcissism.
  • Checking every few months for the warning signs of a problem on social media can help you stay on top of it and ensure that social media isn’t contributing to poor mental health.
  • Social media can also play a positive role in mental health, mainly when used to guide people to resources or to find help.
  • Finding the balance between you and social media allows you to enjoy what social media offers without taking over your life and state of mind.