Predicting Depression via Social Media
Major depression constitutes a serious challenge in personal and public health. Tens of millions of people each year suffer from depression and only a fraction receives adequate treatment. We explore the potential to use social media to detect and diagnose major depressive disorder in individuals. We first employ crowdsourcing to compile a set of Twitter users who report being diagnosed with clinical depression, based on a standard psychometric instrument. Through their social media postings over a year preceding the onset of depression, we measure behavioral attributes relating to social engagement, emotion, language and linguistic styles, ego network, and mentions of antidepressant medications. We leverage these behavioral cues, to build a statistical classifier that provides estimates of the risk of depression, before the reported onset. We find that social media contains useful signals for characterizing the onset of depression in individuals, as measured through decrease in social activity, raised negative affect, highly clustered egonetworks, heightened relational and medicinal concerns, and greater expression of religious involvement. We believe our findings and methods may be useful in developing tools for identifying the onset of major depression, for use by healthcare agencies; or on behalf of individuals, enabling those suffering from depression to be more proactive about their mental health.