Using This Instagram Filter Could Mean You're Depressed

In the past five years, the rise of social media has brought with it increasing fears about the effect that constant Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat use could have on our mental health. But can how you use those platforms offer deeper insight into your mental state?

That's what researchers from Harvard and the University of Vermont sought to find when they observed the Instagram accounts of 166 individuals. They found a link between the certain colors, filters and subjects in participants’ Instagram photos and depression. The results were significant enough that the researchers think Instagram photos might be a future means of screening for the mental illness, which affects more than 15 million American adults. This means that analysis of Instagram photos could assist someone in getting help sooner.

At the start of the study, researchers had participants fill out a standardized clinical depression survey. Each participant shared their Instagram username and the researchers analyzed over 43,000 photos from their combined accounts.
Photo: Madeline Buxton.
What researchers found was that photos that were bluer, darker, and grayer predicted depression. Individuals with depression also had fewer faces per posted photo and were less likely to use filters. Those who did use filters often used Inkwell, the black-and-white filter. This filter most closely corresponds with the researchers' finding about colors.

Why did the researchers choose to focus on Instagram for health screening rather than Facebook or Twitter? "Instagram members currently contribute almost 100 million new posts per day, and Instagram’s rate of new users joining has recently outpaced Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and even Facebook," the researchers say in the study.

Of course, just because someone posts a dark photo doesn't directly imply that they're depressed. The researchers make sure to point out that far more analysis is needed. Some photos just look better in black and white and getting the Inkwell treatment can highlight certain aspects of an image.

But since so much of our lives do take place online, it's important not to discount the findings. Further research into how and why we post what we do can provide important mental health indicators and hopefully, help someone seek treatment if they need it.

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