It is a well-known fact that depression affects mood, sleep, energy, social relationships, physical health, work life, decision-making skills, interests, hobbies, self-esteem, hope, and various other aspects of life. But did you know that depression affects language, too?
People with depressive symptoms speak languages differently, which is an unexpected negative consequence of this potentially fatal mental health problem.
According to a new study – published In Clinical Psychology – Written by Muhammad Al-Musawi and other researchers – On the relationship between depression and language – You can easily spot a depressed person by analyzing the use of written and spoken language and the results are amazing.
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Depression is a burning issue with More than 264 million people of all ages suffer of this mental health condition. Extensive research is being done to find anything that can help identify people with depression and prevent suicide.
Celebrity suicides such as Sylvia Plath and Kurt Cobain have played a large role in the awareness of depression. To prevent such tragic suicides, it is very important to identify the condition with more tools.
Researchers say your language speaks volumes about your depression.
The language of depression
What helped Muhammad Al-Musawi and his team to obtain this study were the personal essays and diaries of depressed people including works by famous artists such as Cobain and Plath. Cobain’s songs and Plath’s poems shed light on the undercurrent of depression (Moussawi and Johnston, 2018).
On that note, if you examine one of Chester Bennington’s last few songs – “I Don’t Like My Mind Now” vividly depict his depressed state of mind. He composed many words referring to addiction and abuse. This means that depression affects language, speaking style, vocabulary and writing to a large extent.
Sometimes the “language of depression” can have a powerful effect on others.
So, observing excerpts, phrases or words, speaking and writing patterns can help one decipher consistent differences in language between depressed and non-depressed people.
RELATED: 10 Hidden Traits of Depression You Might Not Know
technology and linguistics
Thanks to technological advances that have taken the study of this to a new level. A few decades ago, researchers collected notes and data manually to analyze reading and writing style to determine if it was typical for people with depression. Traditional linguistic analysis was a tedious and arduous process!
But in this digital age, social media platforms and tools such as virtual therapy, artificial intelligence, and machine learning (computers that can learn from experience without being programmed) are enabling rapid identification of language patterns that indicate depression. Big data can be collected and analyzed in minutes which also saves time and cost. This type of analysis is much more effective than that performed by trained therapists. Language analysis using these modern tools helps classify various mental health conditions.
Additional statistical tools also aid in the fast and accurate calculation of metrics such as
- Percentage spread of words
- Word Categories
- lexical variationy
- average sentence length
- grammatical patterns
What was it all about studying
The research team analyzed texts from more than 63 online forums with more than 6,400 members. Researchers focused on
- language style
- negative vocabulary
The researchers looked for the use of negative emotion words such as “sad” or “depressed.” They also analyzed people’s use of pronouns such as “I”, “them” and “we” on various Internet forums because they are better predictors of depression than negative emotion words.
The reason for analyzing pronouns is because of their functional role in language because they determine the style of writing. People use pronouns subconsciously and can reveal one’s beliefs and values even though they are not expressed directly (Al-Masawi and Johnston, 2018).
With the help of linguistic survey and word count software, researchers examined “absolute” words or phrases that do not allow for detail in any situation or event. That’s because people with depression relatively poorly articulate their thoughts.
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