Facebook evolves: becomes a diagnostic tool in mental illness

Thought that Facebook was only good for stalking people? Well, mental health professionals are putting it to better use than you.

Published Date
28 - Jan - 2013
| Last Updated
28 - Jan - 2013
Facebook evolves: becomes a diagnostic tool in mental illness

Now here’s one that even Zuckerburg could not have seen. Researchers from the University of Missouri have concluded that Facebook might be a helpful tool in diagnosing psychological disorders amongst patients.

According to the researchers, the social media platform has become such an integral part of peoples’ lives that their posts on the medium could be taken into account as materials towards diagnosis. Researchers feel that since the process of diagnosing a disorder is heavily dependent on a patient’s self-report, there is a possibility they may hide facts about their lives from the researchers, hampering a correct diagnosis.

Psychologists have always been forced to choose between two methods of collecting data, one being a patient’s self-reported data and the other being collected by observing the patient in their natural habitat, without their knowledge. The latter is often a logistical and sometimes ethical problem, but with the way Facebook has become integrated into people’s lives, researches can now exercise both methods of data collection to reach a more accurate diagnosis.

The study, headed by Elizabeth Martin, a researcher and doctoral student at the University of Missouri, asked patients to bring in print-outs of their Facebook profiles and activity and correlated that data with the results of self-report tests. This correlation allowed the researchers to determine the degree to which the patient exhibited schizotypy (ranging from normal dissociative to full blown schizophrenia).

Published in the journal Psychiatry Research, the study concludes that people with social anhedonia (the inability to experience pleasure from activities that are normally enjoyable) tended to have fewer friends on Facebook, communicated with friends less frequently and shared fewer photos. But of course, if you’re the kind who has a Facebook account but don’t really take it seriously, then your shrink might have to figure out other clever messages for diagnosis.

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Swapnil MathurSwapnil Mathur

Digit's resident camera nerd, (un)official product photographer and the Reviews Editor