Using Social Media to Monitor Mental Diseases?

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Social media can bring news feed, activities and everything at your fingertip, but at the same time it records your information and habits to observe and identify those people who show signs of potential mental illness.


Big data, the large and structured volume of data, has become an invaluable device across industries worldwide for foretelling plagues or arresting cyber-criminals. Government officials and scientists have been using this data to address many social challenges and develop useful products. And now, this data will be used to cure mental illnesses.

A team of researchers from France and Canada led by Diana Inkpen of the University Of Ottawa Faculty Of Engineering is set to explore the use of social media data to help individuals potentially at risk of mental health issues. The project has received a three-year grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

"Social media is everywhere," explained the press release issued by the university. "Internet users are posting, blogging and tweeting about almost everything, including their moods, activities and social interactions."


On Wednesday, team's leader, Diana Inkpen told CBC News "We want to look at what kind of emotions people express, and then we will focus in particular on negative emotions that might show some early signs of possible mental disorders. It could be depression, it could be anorexia, it could be other kinds of early mental illness signs."

The organization is collecting data from public sites like Twitter, Medical forums, Facebook to create a set of tools that can be used by doctors, psychologists, school counselors and research groups, among others, to flag concerning patterns in posts made by social media users.

After collection of data, the team then uses text-mining algorithms to pick up several patterns within the data and predict what these patterns mean. "The algorithms developed in this project can be adapted for other uses, such as identifying at-risk youth or high school bullying victims", the university mentioned in the press release.11

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