Am I depressed? Your Instagram account may hold the key

Have you ever wondered if there could be a hidden meaning in some of your friends’ Instagram posts? A new study by a pair of university researchers has found that analysing someone’s Instagram account could potentially be used as a tool to help diagnose depression.

It’s no secret that many people paint an exciting, happy and somewhat unbalanced version of their lives on social media. Holidays, sunsets and celebrations are often ruled in, while nappy changes, boring work days and gastro outbursts rarely make the cut.

But a new study by university Computer Science researchers has found the type of filter people use on their photos could be an indicator of what’s going on inside their heads.  

The study found that it was possible to predict which students were experiencing depression using photographic details, like colour or brightness. Photos posted by participants with diagnosed depression were more likely to be bluer, greyer and darker. 
guy looking broody holding a polaroid photo
The research, “Instagram photos reveal predictive markers of depression” was carried out by researchers from Harvard University and the University of Vermont. Despite their predictions, there was much less of a link between depression and photos of sad looking people. 

Participants with diagnosed depression posted photos to Instagram more often, but despite the tendency to post darker images, they used overall less filters than participants who were not experiencing depression. When they did use filters, they were found to often use the ‘Inkwell’ filter, which converts colour photos to black and white. On the other side of the scale, healthy-minded Instagram users seemed to favour the ‘Valencia’ filter which lightens images. 
 
It’s important to note the study used a fairly small sample size; while just over 13,000 images were analysed, only 166 people took part in the survey. 
 
The study’s authors highlighted the potential to use Instagram in the future to screen for depression, together with health professional expertise.
 
Despite the findings, at Bupa we believe this area of research is in its very early stages and has not been validated, so your GP is a good place to start if you’re worried about your mental health. If they can’t provide you with the answers you need, they can refer you to a specialist. 
 
If you’re interested in learning more about the link between depression and anxiety you can read our article, Stress and anxiety – do I need help?
 
There are also a range of services available for anyone who needs to reach out to someone.
 
For young people between 12 and 24 years old, headspace offers confidential online counselling and phone assistance, or you can walk into one of their centres. For adults, Mindspot and beyondblue also offer free telephone and online support services.
 
If you need to speak to someone urgently you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14. 
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