Social Media & Bipolar Disorder | Can Social Media Activity Predict Depressive Or Manic Episodes?

images (71)In the past few days I have been able to come out from under the covers. Visiting family, taking walks, eating, bathing regularly, you know, the things that I take for granted when I am not sick. It feels good to see some light. Literally though, it has brightened up in terms of weather in the past two days which doesn’t hurt the progress.

During the last month or so I have really struggled with the lower end of this illness as evidenced by my intermittent to non-existent Blog posts, Tweets and Facebook activity. This got me thinking. Could social media play some role in predicting or somehow catching an episode whether it be an early stage depression or early hypo-mania? Of course, when I start to wonder things like this I go straight to Google and interestingly enough, I am not the only one that has noticed this.

I know that when I get depressed I have incredible anxiety. I get physically sick to my stomach when the phone rings, if I need to take care of some paperwork, pay rent, interact with people….Opening my computer to write, communicate on Twitter or Facebook becomes unbearable to think about. Emails feel like little attacks of more things that I am going to have to take care of. Then I start to get even more depressed and anxious because I am not keeping up with all of these things and I worry that I am missing some appointment or some important email. I worry about not keeping up on social media, hell, I am worried about who has been calling and what I am missing or what problems I might be causing myself because of the missed calls. It is irrational, I know. I can’t explain it. I know it sounds like a simple fix. Just suck it up and do it. One email at a time, just pick up the phone, it is probably just a friend, just look to see who it is that is calling before you answer. I can’t explain it, I can only share it. If you haven’t felt it, that knife in the gut feeling and then the guilt from not doing whatever that knife in the gut feeling images (69)stopped you from doing, you cannot understand. If you haven’t curled up into the fetal position and audibly moaned with agony from the butterflies on speed in your stomach, you can’t get it. It is not your fault, it just cannot be gotten. But I have gotten off track.

Back to my observation about my social media activity during this time of depression. I can actually track my activity on all platforms and watch it decline. My posts, tweets and Facebook messages become fewer and farther between as the depression continued. That made me wonder if the opposite might be true. I thought back to my last manic episode. It started early last summer and continued through most of the summer months. It was before this blog however, but during this time I had 5 Twitter accounts, I was dabbling in a couple of blogs, one is still active, 3 Facebook accounts for different causes that I had become involved in. I was even contacted by a radio host who wanted to do an interview because of my other blog and its cause. My posts were 2,3,4,5 am then 9am again. I was constantly monitoring my computer and my social accounts. I was obsessed. I couldn’t be stopped! A member of my family mentioned something to me about the strange hours that I was posting on Facebook, but that is all I heard about it. So I know that in my case, my activity on social media could quite likely be used to predict an episode, either depression or mania.

With a little searching, I found that this is being studied right now. Facebook in particular has been popular for researchers in terms of what is normal and what is out of the ordinary for the individual it is monitoring.

Here is an article about one such study: Facebook posts of Bipolar patients to be studied to monitor signs of relapse in world first study:

A world-first study will use Facebook as an early intervention tool to help prevent people with Bipolar from lapsing into manic episodes.

The Facebook use in Affective Disorders study will analyse the changes in social media use by an individual before and during a bipolar relapse.

If the first part of the trial proves that the Facebook monitoring helps to avert people from experiencing relapses then an application will be designed for users to download. ~ By Leesa Smith | Mail Online

Roisin Kiberd in, How Facebook Can Be Used to Predict a Manic Episode gives an example of some out-of-character Facebook use that he has noticed.

Recently a friend of mine began to post excessively on Facebook every day, usually between 5 AM and 8 AM. One day I used wordcounter.net to add up 9734 words in total; another day, 6288. His page became an archive of racing thoughts, manifested in aggressive, disturbing updates that friends found difficult to read.

Readers will remember a similar, very public series of tweets made by actor Amanda Bynes in the run-up to her eventual hospitalization, along with countless other examples both in public and private. ~ Raisin Kiberd

…it goes on the explain the method behind how researchers are planning to study what is normal Facebook use for an individual, and how that can be used as an indicator of a shift activity and perhaps mood.

The Facebook use in Affective Disord​ers (FAD) Study is currently underway in Melbourne, Australia; it’s a collaboration between researchers from the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Centre and computer scientists from the School of Intelligent Systems at RMIT University. It tracks the Facebook activity and mood of participants with bipolar disorder to work out what “normal” is for them, with the hope of alerting subjects when they begin to stray from their usual patterns towards a potential relapse. ~ Raisin Kiberd

In my research I even found a researcher from Michigan who is testing a phone app that would predict Manic episodes in Bipolar patients by monitoring the user’s voice. The app would record the user’s voice picking up changes in speech patterns, intonations and speed to predict a manic episode. The data would be sent to the user’s doctor for monitoring so that the doctor could be aware of the patient’s possible oncoming episode. You can read more about it hereApp May Help Predict Manic Episodes in Bipolar Disorder

I suppose then, that I am not the only person to have noticed that there might just be a link here. I’m not sure how soon we will have access to any of these apps or on-line tools to monitor our social media activity, or that anybody would want them to, but I do think that it is a good tool that we can use ourselves. I find it particularly helpful in a hypo-manic stage. If I am depressed, it doesn’t take the guilt of not keeping up my on-line presence to let me know that I am depressed, but when I feel good, that is when I might need to pay more attention.

There is a fine line between happiness and illness with this disorder. It is actually one of the things I find most frustrating. I am never quite sure if I am doing well and am happy or if I am becoming manic and need to monitor myself after I finally feel great. Is it happy or is it hypo mania? It is extremely disappointing to discover that it is the latter, and that it is now time to medicate away the enthusiasm. I think with experience we get closer to understanding on what side of that fine line we are on, and if it is travelling in one direction or the other. I believe that happiness is feeling good without needing to do, or be or go, or have anything. It is quiet, contentment, without the busy, racing sun storm. There you go, I think I am getting closer to recognising that line after all.

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10 Comments on “Social Media & Bipolar Disorder | Can Social Media Activity Predict Depressive Or Manic Episodes?

  1. Hi! This is a really good post! Thank you for sharing. My sister is currently going through a hypomanic episode and as you noted, has had a lot of activity on Facebook. I was wondering if you had any advice on helping her tone it down so she has less explaining to do when she’s better?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Tee, I’m sorry for the late response. I too have been on a bit of a ride. As for your question….hmmm. It’s a tough one because her posts (likely enthusiastic?) are genuine. I mean, she most likely is genuine in her advice, opinions, or whatever it is that she is putting out there. You are correct though, even if there isn’t much explaining to do, she might regret putting herself out there to that degree. In my opinion, I would be very gentle in my approach. Maybe compliment her on her ideas or comments, then remind her that some things she should keep for herself. That she is unique and special and that it is best to be discerning when giving of yourself, because not everybody will appreciate her the way that she deserves to be appreciated. That she is worth saving what she has to offer for those closest to her. (…don’t offer pearls before swine…). I hope that this advice does not come too late and that she is able to get medical help to even out her moods. Is she presently under the care of a psychiatrist or GP? Feel free to write me if you need to talk. Good luck!

      Like

  2. Of course then you have another source of anxiety. Worrying that an aberration in your social media profile – for whatever reason – might trigger an unwanted or inappropriate response from those monitoring it.

    I could imagine an exchange like this:

    *ring*ring*

    “Hi, who is it?”

    “It’s Maria from the Social Media Mental Health Monitoring Center. We were just wondering if there was anything we could do to help.”

    “That depends. Are you any good at recovering a crashed system disk?”

    Like

    • Yes, and what happens when some thing you post is misinterpreted and you are suddenly a “danger to yourself or others”. That would all depend on how much power is given to whom, then you are at the mercy of their opinion of the situation.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great insightful post. I do notice that I use social media more actively when in manic episodes. I hope developers are onto something!

    Liked by 2 people

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