Is our social media behaviour a window into our mental health?

Written by Dr Lim Mei Kuan, School of Information Technology

Social media have long been held responsible for aggravating mental health problems. There have been many studies that explored the different ways social media can negatively affect one’s mental health. Our research on the other hand, presents a new perspective on the connection between social media and mental health. This project applies Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help discover psychological pattern of individuals by analysing their social media activities.

The AI prediction model is trained using multimode of information to identify “visual and linguistic red flags” which could be signs of mental health at risked. At this stage, our work is focused on detecting depressive patterns. Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and it is estimated one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. In Malaysia, the prevalence of psychiatric morbidity among adults is estimated to be about 29.2% in 2015 and the most prevalent form of mental illness, depression will be the number 1 disability by 2030 (Ministry of Health Malaysia, 2017).

The utilisation of AI algorithms to identify individuals at risk of depression has the advantage of being able to perform screening “non-intrusively” in the background, as compared to existing screening questionnaires used to identify depression. Given the wealth of information on social media and the ubiquity of social media platforms, AI prediction model could be a new diagnostic tool to help large-scale passive monitoring of social media so that early intervention can be made. Early diagnosis and treatment can greatly increase the chances of affected individuals to regain reasonable state of health and well-being. Ultimately, we envision developing a mobile application that could help to monitor one’s mental health and provide personalised signals and recommendations to improve one’s mental well-being. Similar to tracking your daily steps using your mobile for good health, it could one day be used to monitor your mental well-being.

There is a strong perception that using social media has detrimental effect on one’s mental health. Soon, social media could turn out to be an important tool for us to diagnose, monitor and eventually treat mental health.