Psychologists Tell You This Is What Your Facebook Posts Reveal About Your Mental Health

For some, posting on social media has become as automatic as breathing. At lunchtime, for example, you might take a picture of the last salad you ate in the neighborhood restaurant, or maybe late that night you write a tweet without feeling a moment of hesitation, saying : “I can’t sleep, so I guess I’ll get up for a drink.”

Over time, all posts on Facebook, comments on Instagram, and tweets on Twitter became; A treasure trove of all human thoughts and feelings, humans rarely reconsider their previously hastily published ideas without careful thought, and because these posts are available to everyone, they are also ready for psychologists to analyze using algorithms to find out what lies behind these statements that we are supposed to make hurry without thinking.

Do your tweets express the unity within you?

According to new research published in the British Medical Journal “BMJ Open”, what is expressed by tweets such as: “It is now two in the morning, and here I am sitting alone with a drink,” clearly means: “I am completely alone.” .

In the study, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania analyzed nearly 400 million tweets posted by people in Pennsylvania from 2012 through 2016. Then they combined all tweets from people who reported feeling lonely on at least 5 occasions, and compared them to another demographic group similar. (The researchers did not explicitly ask those whose tweets indicated feeling lonely if they were actually lonely.)

The researchers found that people who showed signs of loneliness had more swear words in their tweets, talked more about their relationship problems, needs, and feelings as well, and were more likely to express anxiety or anger, refer to drugs and alcohol, complain of difficulty sleeping, and more often. They don’t post these tweets at night, while the other group that showed no signs of loneliness seemed more reactive and in tune with others, talking about games, sports teams and other things that seemed more optimistic.

Of course, this study was far from being an accurate analysis of what is going on in the souls of Twitter users and what expresses them inside, as people can simply talk about their needs and feelings without feeling lonely. However, language processing (that is, machine learning and interaction with human languages) makes it easier for scientists to understand the nature of the different emotions that posts on the Internet reflect.

In recent years, researchers have used social media data to predict which users will be depressed and who will feel truly happy. As analysis tools become more sophisticated, we can now predict different emotions and mental health disorders that people experience by analyzing the words people type daily on their phones and computers.

double-edged sympathy


In some cases, researchers can detect very subtle differences in circulating emotions that do not have obvious features such as “sympathy.” Psychology has long referred to two types of empathy: “helpful” empathy or “compassion,” which is empathy for a person. What and trying to help him, and “energy draining” empathy which means feeling actual pain over the pain of others, and locking oneself in their own.

Based on a scientific paper still under review, another group of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania analyzed the language of social media to determine how these two types of empathy are expressed, and found that people who show empathy mixed with sympathy for others tend to use expressions such as “congratulations.” or “invitations,” or words like “wonderful” or “family,” and those expressing drained empathy use words like “me,” “feel,” “myself,” and “absolutely.”

The difference between the two types may seem slight, but Lyle Ungar, a professor of computers and information at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the study’s authors, believes that being aware of the difference between the two meanings can help people whose jobs require the care of others, such as doctors, to understand when it causes their empathy. Counterproductive, empathy draining energy can lead to severe exhaustion, and continues, saying: “I can honestly care about you, but that does not mean that I have to go through the same suffering, I can worry about the widespread poverty in Africa, so I should donate money for charitable causes without having a sense of what it really means to have malaria.”

Psychologists predict mental disorders


Besides analyzing shared emotions (or feelings common among people), language analysis technology may also shed light on more serious matters, such as predicting psychosis (a mental disorder) in patients with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. And psychotic episodes can be shortened or even stopped, or the patient’s feeling of detachment from reality can be reduced if doctors discover them in time, but the problem is that many patients’ cases become more complex before those around them discover what is happening, while it is difficult for patients to realize their situation. Reality in the midst of these hallucinations.

In this regard, researchers from the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research and the Georgia Institute of Technology analyzed 52,815 Facebook posts from 51 patients who had recently experienced psychosis, and found that the language the patients used on Facebook in the month before their relapse sounded very different compared to when they were healthy and well. And the more their symptoms worsened, the more likely they were to use oaths and words related to anger or death, and they were less likely to use words related to work, friends or health, and they were more likely to use pronouns, which can be considered a possible indication of so-called “self-referential thinking” referential thinking) is the false feeling that people with delusions have that strangers are talking about them.

During the study, researchers also discovered that people with psychosis added a lot of “friends” on Facebook and got along with them a month before their relapse. “Making new friends on Facebook doesn’t really indicate a problem, but in such circumstances, increased activity may reflect a shift in behavior in general,” says Michael Birnbaum, associate professor of behavioral sciences at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research and lead author of the study. “The human body, which may be a warning of upcoming psychotic episodes or nervous breakdowns. Most likely, such activities would not usually choose to engage in them if they were relatively healthy.”


The researchers who conducted these studies report that eventually, these types of analyzes can help identify people involved in loneliness or suffering, even if they don’t want or can’t see a doctor. Commenting on this, Charath Chandra Guntuku, a research scientist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Digital Health (a center where digital technologies are converging with healthcare to make medicines more personalized and precise), and lead author of the loneliness study, says: depression, so we found it better to focus our attention on what loneliness means rather than allowing it to permeate itself to the point of depression.”

In the end, people who are experiencing loneliness or other symptoms of mental disorders can hang out with someone else online, for example, or make suggestions to meet up with some friends in their area, but it is still not clear if we can use any of these things To get real psychological help for patients right now. It’s a “known secret” that doctors in psychiatric emergency rooms will look for patients online if they suspect they may harm themselves or others, says Paul Applebaum, a professor and expert in psychiatric ethics, and especially if the patient is not willing to release the information. This process requires specialists only to track patients once on Facebook, and does not require in-depth linguistic analysis.

Applebaum continues his talk that research is now being conducted based on passive monitoring (anonymous monitoring) of patients, as the phone can be used to remotely track changes that occur in a person’s speech or movement, so we find, for example, that people with mania often talk more quickly, and sometimes wander for hours At night, depressed people remain still in bed or on the sofa for several days, motionless.


Commenting on this, Applebaum says: “Many applications have been developed to include collecting input from the patient, including information about mood, thoughts or behavior, which can be monitored remotely to track changes in their condition.” Michael Birnbaum, associate professor of behavioral sciences at the Feinstein Institutes, imagines a future in which his patients with serious mental disorders will allow access to their digital fingerprint so that he and his team can intervene immediately by noticing signs of a psychotic relapse. better”.

Most experts agree that anything to do with physicians interfering with their patients’ online lives should only be done with the patient’s consent. But if we go into this approach, real questions will begin to arise, such as: What would happen if a patient revoked consent for a physician’s intervention during a psychotic relapse? Or: To what extent can social media really help with hospitalization decisions? Or even whether social media, with its content and jokes, is a true mirror of anyone’s mental state indeed.

Birnbaum argues that before any of this happens, organizations like the American Psychiatric Association need to determine the ethics and best ways to monitor patients’ social media posts, protecting patients’ rights while protecting their health.

Is this kind of technology ready for real use?

Phone and laptop

This will likely not be necessary for years to come, as many experts report that they have not encountered any psychologists who systematically and regularly monitor patient data on social media, not to mention that there is currently no single algorithm capable of accurately predicting mental health problems based on social media posts. Social networking alone. (Maybe we wonder: What would doctors’ intervention in this virtual world look like? Will they prescribe sedatives to patients as soon as midnight comes?!).

In 2014, a problem arose when a British charity launched an app aimed at predicting suicide risks by tracking phrases on Twitter containing the word “Help me!”, but this application quickly stopped as a result of the invasion of its opponents, in addition to many confusions, such as the emergence of Phrases that include the same word “help me” but in another context unrelated to suicide. Commenting on this, Mike Conway, a professor at the University of Utah School of Medicine in the United States, says: “Although this type of technology is promising, it is not yet ready for use in real times.”

Through our random updates, doctors can infer a lot about our mental health. In fact, the real beneficiary of this type of technology may be the average user of social media, as it is rare for a tweet to admit that he is “alone”, but instead browsing our online posts expressing our desires over time from It would provide clues about our feelings buried deep in our subconscious. It is similar to the “Rorschach inkblot test” developed by the Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach, which is a psychological test for cards drawn in ink to reveal the thoughts, motives and desires of any person, as if your words that you share on social media are ink spots that express what goes in your depths.


This article is translated from the atlantic It does not necessarily reflect the location of the field.

Translation: Somaya Zaher.

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