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What Your Instagram Says About Your Mental Health

Pay attention to your favorite filters.


There’s a reason that everyone and their mother is on Instagram. Few platforms are better for giving your family and friends an inside look at what’s happening in your life—even if what’s happening is that your toddler dumped her mac ‘n’ cheese on the floor. But social media can do more than just enable you to share your finest (and, okay, less-than-finest) moments.

Take a good look at your Instagram feed. Scroll down a few times. Do you notice an overall aesthetic—say, generally blue, gray, or darker-toned photos? When you post photos, do you usually skip over the Valencia filter, which makes any photo look like it was taken in midsummer? According to a new small study, these are signs that can indicate depression.

The study authors asked 166 participants to share their Instagram feeds and mental health history, then examined a total of 43,950 of their photos. Almost half of the participants reported a history of depression. Then, the researchers analyzed the photos, looking at people’s preferences for color, vividness, and brightness. They learned that healthy people gravitated toward filters that added warmth and brightness, like Valencia, which was the most popular filter that healthy participants used. Those with a history of depression posted photos that had increased hue values, less brightness, and lower saturation—aka pics that are bluer, darker, and grayer.

While participants with a history of depression generally used filters less often than their counterparts without that history, their filter of choice was Inkwell, a filter that turns the image black and white. The study also found that those with a history of depression were more likely to post pictures with faces, but posted fewer group shots than non-history participants—which may be related to the fact that depression is often associated with being less social.

A blue-toned Instagram feed doesn’t necessarily mean you have the blues. But if you’ve noticed other signs of depression most days for the last few weeks, such as persistently feeling sad, anxious, or hopeless, having trouble sleeping or feeling fatigued, experiencing changes in appetite or weight, or having suicidal thoughts, you can make an appointment to speak to your doctor.

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