CLEVELAND – Social media attracts people in different ways – from those who ‘over-share’ to those who only check in on occasion.

But, according to one recent study, what we’re sharing on our social media platforms can say a lot about our health status – both physically and mentally.

The study looked at 999 people and their social media posts.

Researchers studied approximately 20 million words and were able to predict several conditions such as diabetes, anxiety and depression, based on what people were posting about.

Joseph Rock, PsyD, did not take part in the study, but cautions us from reacting to everything we read online.

“You might see somebody who sounds very isolated and depressed, but maybe they only post when they do,” he said. “On the other hand, you may see people who only post when they’re feeling good and things are going well for them, so you don’t want to overreact in either direction.”

Dr. Rock said, in real life, it’s tough to tell what’s really going on with someone just by looking at their social media posts, because we’re only getting a snapshot of the whole picture of their lives.

But if someone is continually posting negative sentiments, it may be worth reaching out to see if the person on the other end is looking for help.

He admits it can be difficult to know how to approach someone if you suspect they might be struggling.

If a loved one’s posts have you concerned about their well-being, instead of continuing the social media thread, Dr. Rock suggests picking up the phone and calling them.

“One of the problems, is if you see something that raises a concern on social media, perhaps responding to it on social media is part of the problem,” he said. “I think coming at them in a different direction, maybe to get underneath what’s happening on the surface, is a better way to do it. You’re more likely to have your concern come across as sincere, because you can do that easier in an actual conversation than you can in a social media conversation.” 

Dr. Rock  said it can be difficult to know who is crying out for help online and who is just complaining, but for those who find other people’s posts to be consuming their thoughts, it might be time to take a break from all social media.

Complete results of the study can be found in PLOS ONE.

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