Your Instagram feed could provide a good snapshot of your mental health, according to a new study.

Researchers from Harvard University and the University of Vermont created a machine learning computer program to analyze Instagram photos, finding that their analysis could actually better diagnose depression than a physician.

Study Findings

The computer program analyzed 43,950 Instagram photos from 166 subjects, 71 of which had a clinical diagnosis of depression.

It correctly identified depressed participants based on their social media images 70 percent of the time, compared to the accurate unassisted diagnosis made by general practitioners 42 percent of the time.

"Our analysis of user accounts from a popular social media app revealed that photos posted by people diagnosed with depression tended to be darker in color, received more comments from the community, were more likely to contain faces and less likely to have a filter applied,” said study author Dr. Christopher Danforth in a statement.

According to the team, their research — in consideration of data privacy and ethical measures — could act as a blueprint for effectively screening mental health “in an increasingly digitalized society.”

Filter Fever

Depressed participants tended to post more frequently, and when they selected image filters, they were more likely to use one converting color photos to black and white. So they were likely to favor the “Inkwell” filter, versus the “Valencia” filter linked to healthy individuals.

In addition, depressed users were more likely to get fewer likes on their posts. They also had the tendency to express photos in a color scheme of “bluer, grayer, and darker,” the researchers revealed.

Depressed people, too, tended to post photos with faces, yet also with fewer faces present with each photo.

Coauthor Dr. Andrew Reece said that while they used a relatively small sample in their study, they managed to properly observe differences in the posts of depressed and non-depressed people on social media. Depression markers, he added, can be gleaned from posts published before someone received an official diagnosis.

The findings were detailed in the journal EPJ Data Science.

A separate study this month highlighted the benefits of yoga as a complementary treatment for depression, as presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

Dr. Lindsey Hopkins, who presented yoga findings at the conference, said that many new practitioners cite the stress reduction and other mental health gains from practicing yoga. The research is still deemed preliminary.

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