Using a form of artificial intelligence, researchers at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology assessed the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the mental health of millions.
By scraping data of over 800,000 mental health and non-mental health posts on the social platform Reddit, the research team was able to analyze the language in which the users exhibited that characterizes as anxiety or chronic stress. Their study was released in the Journal of Internet Medical Research.
From their analysis of the Reddit posts, they determined the changes in the tone and content of language publicized by the users during the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. The analysis uncovered discussions of anxiety and severe depression.
“By using a broad set of natural language processing (NLP) techniques and analyzing a baseline of prepandemic posts, we uncovered patterns of how specific mental health problems manifest in language, identified at-risk users, and revealed the distribution of concerns across Reddit, which could help provide better resources to its millions of users,” the co-authors stated in their findings.
“We then demonstrated that textual analysis is sensitive to uncover mental health complaints as they appear in real time, identifying vulnerable groups and alarming themes during COVID-19, and thus may have utility during the ongoing pandemic and other world-changing events such as elections and protests.”
Future research is expected to attempt at detecting mental conditions solely from analyzing posts on Reddit or other social media-based platforms. One particular experiment may involve the use of machine learning to screen social media-based posts of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.