Facebook updates could provide a window to understanding – and treating – mental health disorders

Writing in Lancet Psychiatry, researchers from the University of Cambridge discuss how social networking sites might be harnessed to provide data to help further our understanding of the onset and early years of mental illness. "Since being published last week the article has gone viral online to more than 20 countries with fantastic feedback", says Dr Becky Inkster*, from the Department of Psychiatry and the study's lead author on the paper.

“Facebook is hugely popular and could provide us with a wealth of data to improve our knowledge of mental health disorders such as depression and schizophrenia,” she continues. “Facebook's reach is particularly broad, too, stretching across the digital divide to traditionally hard-to-reach groups including homeless youth, immigrants, people with mental health problems, and seniors.”

Image result for facebook likeDr Inkster and her colleagues argue that Facebook might be used to help improve the detection of mental health factors. Dr Michal Kosinski, co-author from Stanford Graduate Business School, adds that Facebook data tends to be more reliable than offline self-reported information, while still reflecting an individual’s offline behaviours. It also enables researchers to measure content that is difficult to assess offline, such as conversation intensity, and to reach sample sizes previously unobtainable.

Read more on this article from the University of Cambridge's Research News webpage

*Dr Becky Inkster is a Wolfson College Research Associate.