Paging Dr. Facebook: How the social network could help doctors screen patients for depression

More than half of Americans who suffer from depression never get any treatment, and in many cases that’s because their symptoms are never diagnosed. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advises primary care physicians to screen all of their patients for depression and make sure proper care gets to those who need it, but this is a big job and doctors could use some help.

Paging Dr. Facebook, stat!

A new study argues that doctors could gain valuable insight into their patients’ mental health by monitoring the statements they post on Facebook. In tests, researchers found certain patterns in Facebook posts that preceded a clinical diagnosis of depression.

“One day, the analysis of social media language could serve as a scalable front-line tool for the identification of depressed individuals,” the study authors wrote Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

If that prospect seems unsettling, consider what may come next: algorithms that interpret the facial expressions in Facebook users’ photos and videos, or software that tracks the physical location of a patient’s phone and how often it is used.




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