The Weird Way Instagram Helps To Diagnose Depression

We knew Instagram can cause depression—based on both personal experience and popular sentiment—but we didn’t know until now that it can also help to diagnose it, and more effectively than doctors can, to boot. According to a new study in EPJ Data Science, it’s possible to predict which Instagram users suffer from depression based on the color schemes and filters used on their photos. According to a survey of the accounts of 166 Instagram users, 71 of whom had previously been diagnosed with depression, those who tended toward blue, gray and dark tones were more likely to be experiencing the blues (pseudo-pun intended) than were those who did not. They also generally avoided filters, though when they did choose to add effects to their photos, they opted mostly for the black-and-white Inkwell option available on Insta.

We’d kinda roll our eyes at this study, except that its researchers diagnosed depression more effectively than doctors did, with a 71% accuracy rate using Instagram versus a mere 42% accuracy rate using old-fashioned humans with medical degrees. On the other hand, we feel as though we, mere mortals who are neither researchers nor doctors, can pretty accurately diagnose depression based on the number of inspirational quotes someone posts on Instagram, so maybe this isn’t the leap it appears to be. Plus, most professional Instagrammers—some of whom have come out as depressed—know that bright colors do better in terms of engagement and therefore would be overlooked using this Instagram-specific diagnostic strategy but would probably be helped tremendously by a chat with their doctor. Maybe, however, this type of research will eventually help to fuel specifically targeted ads for life-saving services such as suicide hotlines, which would be awesome.

Feeling blue yourself? Try one of these five apps, which are meant to stand in for your shrink.