New software can detect depression in online texts

Washington: Researchers have developed a software program that can detect depression in blogs and online texts.

The software, developed at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), is capable of identifying language that can indicate the writer`s psychological state, which could serve as a screening tool.

Associate Professor Yair Neuman and his team demonstrated that when used to scan more than 300,000 English language blogs posted to mental health Web sites, the program identified what it perceived to be the 100 "most depressed" and 100 "least depressed" bloggers. A panel of four clinical psychologists verified a 78 percent correlation between the computer`s findings and the panel`s.

"The software program was designed to find depressive content hidden in language that did not mention the obvious terms like "depression" or suicide. A psychologist knows how to spot various emotional states through intuition. Here, we have a program that does this methodically through the innovative use of ``web intelligence,” explains Neuman.

The program can spot words that express various emotions - like "black" combined with other terms that describe symptoms of depression, such as sleep deprivation or loneliness. The software will be more of an aid to mental health workers and other professionals since "no one can actually replace excellent human judgment," says Neuman.

With this software, it is possible to analyse proactively. If the blogger agrees, he will know whether or not he needs to seek professional counselling.

The findings will be published in the International Conference on Web Intelligence proceedings.


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