08/09/2017 10:57 EDT | Updated 08/09/2017 10:57 EDT

Your Instagram Pics Can Reveal A Lot About Your Mental Health

It's not always a pretty picture.

Getty Images/Blend Images

Posting pictures on social media is, for many, a way to edit your way and just show the particular face you want to put out into the world.

But that doesn't always mean shiny, happy pictures of toes digging into sand. Many people use sites like Instagram to show what's going in their minds, and it's not always a pretty picture.

In a study published in EPJ Data Science, researchers analyzed the Instagram images of 166 people who had given their permission, using a computer program to go through 43,950 photos in order to assess the mental health of the person who posted it.

Their reasoning? A computer might better be able to diagnose someone with depression than a doctor, since GPs only correctly identify depression in 42 per cent of cases (though it must be noted, that particular stat came from doctors who didn't use standard tools to arrive at their diagnoses).

Then they also asked a random group of people to rate how happy or sad the pictures seemed on a scale from 0 to 5.

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The results showed that Instagram behaviour could predict which users were suffering from depression, and that evidence of the illness could be seen via the images before it had been diagnosed.

Habits like displaying photos with darker colours or opting for more dull filters were one factor, as well as posting pictures with fewer faces, which correlated with the idea that people who are depressed don't interact with others as much.

The study didn't, however, look at the statuses or comments posted below the images, which they noted could be taken into account in a future study.

Social media in general, and Instagram specifically, has been found to make people feel worse about themselves.

Of course, there are serious limitations here — not the least of which is that social media in general, and Instagram specifically, has been found to make people feel worse about themselves because of its emphasis on aesthetics and unrealistic shots.

"Instagram easily makes girls and women feel as if their bodies aren't good enough as people add filters and edit their pictures in order for them to look 'perfect,'" the Royal Society for Public Health in the U.K. noted in May.

To combat this, Instagram has instituted screens that pop up when people search for terms like "depression" or "cutting" that give options other than looking at the pictures.


And then there are the many, many people who aren't putting their pictures on Instagram, or anywhere, who are experiencing mental health issues.

But on a hopeful note, for those who are sharing their struggles, this study could offer a slight silver lining. Along with the communities developed online that remind people they aren't the only ones going through this, these depression guidelines might flag those in need of support by their communities — and get them the help they need.

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