However much we might like to skirt around the issue, we all know that spending too much time on social media can be bad for our mental health. All those #blessed beach yoga photos and pointless Twitter rows have a knack of making you feel worse about yourself and, all too often, humanity itself.
But according to a new study, the relationship between our social media activity and mental state works both ways: how often you post on Instagram could be an indication of your mental health issues.
Scientists from Harvard and Vermont universities created a computer programme to recognise people with depression by studying the frequency at which they post and the types of images they share. By analysing the Instagram behaviour of people with mental health issues, they identified how people with depression use the app differently.
The study, published in the journal EPJ Data Science, found that users with depression posted more frequently than those without mental health issues and were more inclined to share photos that contained faces, but less likely to use filters.
However, when they did apply filters, the Instagram users with depression also generally shared images with a darker colour scheme and garnered more comments from others on the app.
The system has so far proven more successful at diagnosing depression than doctors. The study of 166 Instagram users and 43,950 photos correctly identified depressed individuals 70% of the time, compared with previous research showing that GPs can do so correctly 42% of the time, EurekAlert reported.
"With an increasing share of our social interactions happening online, the potential for algorithmic identification of early-warning signs for a host of mental and physical illnesses is enormous," said Dr. Christopher Danforth, co-author of the study from the University of Vermont.
He added that the system could potentially be used by health professionals to identify people at risk of mental illness, reported EurekAlert. "Imagine an app you can install on your phone that pings your doctor for a check-up when your behaviour changes for the worse, potentially before you even realise there is a problem."
You might not think about the potential health benefits when you upload that shameless selfie to the 'gram, but the researchers' algorithm could significantly change the way we diagnose and treat mental health conditions.
Danforth added: "It's better if we can get somebody who [might] die by suicide in 2018 in front of a psychologist sooner because there’s something about their social media that made it clear to the machine that they needed help and it wasn’t obvious to the people around them."