Depressed on Facebook?

Depressive symptoms may be detectable through Internet usage patterns

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) What if there was software out there that could alert people that they were depressed and prompt them to seek treatment? Internet pattern data is easy to collect, software development won’t be too far behind.

In a recent study, computer scientists detected noticeable Internet usage pattern differences in college students with depressive symptoms.

Soon there may be software to alert college kids that they need to seek treatment for their depression based on this data.

"Talk to your therapist if you’re experiencing signs of depression."

Sriram Chellappan, PhD, assistant professor of computer science at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, led a study into the Internet search patterns of people with depression.

For the study, 216 Missouri University of Science and Technology undergraduates were recruited to fill out a depression scale while the researchers followed their Internet usage for an entire month.

In accordance with national statistics for college students, 30 percent qualified under depressive symptoms. Researchers weren’t interested in the actual details of the student’s personal computer data, like emails and sites visited. They were looking for traffic flow, time spent on sites, file sharing, application switching and so forth.

Those among the 30 percent of depressive students had markedly different Internet usage patterns than the rest of the population.

Depressive students demonstrated trends in sharing music and movie files, frequent switches between applications and used email a lot.

Research psychologists Janet Morahan-Martin and Phyllis Schumacher have reported that checking email all the time can be related to high levels of anxiety, which is often related to depression.

Switching between applications like chat rooms, games and email could indicate lack of concentration, which can also be related to depression, according the National Institute of Mental Health.

Watching videos, gaming and chatting were frequently seen patterns in the depressive student’s Internet patters.

In conclusion, Chellappan said, “We hope to use our findings to develop a software application that could be installed on home computers and mobile devices. It would monitor your Internet usage and alert you when your usage patterns might signal symptoms of depression.”

“This would not replace the function of mental health professionals, but it could be a cost-effective way to prompt people to seek medical help early.”

Chellappan goes on to suggest this software could be useful on college campuses especially, although noting that privacy concerns would have to be addressed.

This study will be published in IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, July 2012. No financial information was given and no conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 23, 2012
Last Updated:
November 15, 2012