March 23, 2018

Social Media: Using Instagram and Twitter to Help Identify/Predict Depression, Two New Articles

Two new full text research articles (preprints) made available on arXiv about the use of two popular social media services to help in predicting depression.

1. Instagram Photos Reveal Predictive Markers Of Depression


Andrew G. Reece 
Harvard University

Christopher M. Danforth 
University of Vermont


Using Instagram data from 166 individuals, we applied machine learning tools to successfully identify markers of depression. Statistical features were computationally extracted from 43,950 participant Instagram photos, using color analysis, metadata components, and algorithmic face detection. Resulting models outperformed general practitioners’ average diagnostic success rate for depression. These results held even when the analysis was restricted to posts made before depressed individuals were first diagnosed. Photos posted by depressed individuals were more likely to be bluer, grayer, and darker. Human ratings of photo attributes (happy, sad, etc.) were weaker predictors of depression, and were uncorrelated with computationally-generated features. These findings suggest new avenues for early screening and detection of mental illness.

2. Identifying Depression on Twitter


Moin Nadeem, Mike Horn, Glen Coppersmith
Johns Hopkins University

Dr. Sandip Sen, PhD
University of Tulsa


Social media has recently emerged as a premier method to disseminate information online. Through these online networks, tens of millions of individuals communicate their thoughts, personal experiences, and social ideals. We therefore explore the potential of social media to predict, even prior to onset, Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) in online personas. We employ a crowdsourced method to compile a list of Twitter users who profess to being diagnosed with depression. Using up to a year of prior social media postings, we utilize a Bag of Words approach to quantify each tweet. Lastly, we leverage several statistical classifiers to provide estimates to the risk of depression. Our work posits a new methodology for constructing our classifier by treating social as a text-classification problem, rather than a behavioral one on social media platforms. By using a corpus of 2.5M tweets, we achieved an 81% accuracy rate in classification, with a precision score of .86. We believe that this method may be helpful in developing tools that estimate the risk of an individual being depressed, can be employed by physicians, concerned individuals, and healthcare agencies to aid in diagnosis, even possibly enabling those suffering from depression to be more proactive about recovering from their mental health.

Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.