From long rambling posts about politics, to engaging in banter about your favorite sports team, a new study that analyzed the way language is used on Facebook found that certain medical illnesses could be seen through words. Researchers at The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Northwell Health released a study analyzing language used on Facebook’s messaging and image platforms over an 18-month period. The study, published in Nature Partner Journals Schizophrenia, found that certain language used on the social media platform could be an indicator for developing either disorder.
Breaking down the study
“There is great promise in the current research regarding the relationship between social media activity and behavioral health, and our results published with IBM Research today demonstrate that machine learning algorithms are capable of identifying signals associated with mental illness, well over a year in advance of the first psychiatric hospitalization,” Dr. Michael Birnbaum, program director for Northwell Health’s Early Treatment Program, said in a press release. “We have the potential to thoughtfully bring psychiatry into the modern, digital age by integrating theis data into the field.”
The study analyzed nearly 3.5 million Facebook messages and more than 142,000 images from 223 participants and compared them with healthy volunteers. It found the Schizophrenia patients used more perception words — such as “hear,” “see,” and “feel” and punctuation compared to healthy volunteers, while both Schizophrenia and mood disorder participants were more likely to use swear words compared to healthy participants.
Additionally, Schizophrenia patients were significantly more likely to express negative emotions compared to healthy participants, while those with mood disorders used more words related to blood, pain, and other biological processes and second person pronouns (you/yours/yourself) than healthy patients.
As for images posted on Facebook, the study found that the height and width of photos posted by participants with Schizophrenia or mood disorders were smaller than healthy participants. Mood disorder patients posted photos that had more blues and less yellows, the study said.
What is the difference between the two disorders?
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that changes the way people interpret reality, according to the Mayo Clinic. It includes symptoms like delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thinking, admiral motor behavior, and more than 200,000 cases pop up in the US each year.
Mood disorders can be a many different states that change your emotional state. That includes bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and depression related to medical illness or induced by substance use. Often, mood disorders can be treated through medicine or therapy, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“Early diagnosis of serious mental illness significantly improves long term outcomes and treatment responses,”Kevin J. Tracey, MD, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institutes, said in a press release.