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Can Twitter Predict Postnatal Depression (PND)?

Could your tweets reveal the state of your mama mind? Scientists reckon so…

You may see your Twitter account as a way to get mama tips for your parenting problems, catch up on news or sum up your latest baby experience in 140 characters.  But what and how you tweet could also show if you’re likely to have postnatal depression (PND).

Scientists at Microsoft labs have found that the risk of a new mother suffering from PND could be predicted weeks before the birth of her child, simply be monitoring her tweets. 

The researchers discovered that it is possible to spot, which pregnant women will struggle with motherhood based on the language they use before the birth on their Twitter feeds.  Rather than direct chat about the pregnancy, it’s general negativity in the language used that reveals her underlying unhappiness or anxiety by the general negativity in language used.

The study looked at the language of several hundred women three months before and after birth.  They noticed that the 15 per cent of women who went on to be diagnosed with PND asked more questions, had lower levels of positivity and increased levels of anger and anxiety.

‘We saw several patterns in the language of women with postnatal depression,’ said Eric Horvitz, co-director of Microsoft Research in Washington.  ‘Then we wondered if we could go back in time and see if this trend could be spotted before the birth. And we found we could.

‘Psychologists have found in strong work that shifts to higher frequencies of the use of first-person pronoun can indicate onset of depression, as people become more self-focused,’ he added.  ‘You really get a feeling of what is going on in the heads of those people who were struggling.’

Horvitz believes an app could be designed which picks up on these language clues on social media and could direct new mums towards help.  He said, ‘Postnatal depression is known to be under reported because of the stigma attached,’ says Horvitz.

‘It's not one for Microsoft, but a welfare group could create an app that women could run on a smartphone which warns them of the onset of depression and points them to resources to help them deal with it.’ 

How much do you share your real feelings about motherhood on Twitter?  Let us know in the comment box below.

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