How People With Depression Use Language Differently

Scientists have long studied the relationship between depression and language, and have been getting closer to finding a correlation between the two. However, in the past studies revolved around linguistic analyses, in which researchers relied on reading and taking notes. Thanks to technology, analyzing words and language is becoming more accurate and insightful through the use of computerized text analysis methods. These methods could be revolutionary in providing insight into the link between psychology and language, and can be done within minutes.


So what did researchers find when using text analysis to assess language used by those with depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation? As one would expect, those with depression and anxiety used an excessive amount of words expressing negative emotions - such as “lonely,” “sad,” etc. Additionally, those with depression spoke in first person much more frequently than those without - using “I”, “me”, and “myself” far more frequently than those without depression. This indicates how those suffering from anxiety and depression feel less connected to others and more focused on themselves. Interestingly, researchers have found that the excessive use of first person pronouns are more indicative of depression and anxiety than the use of words expressing negative emotions.


In addition to analyzing the content of language, researchers analyze the style in which those with depression and anxiety use language. Researchers found the use of absolutist words - words that express absolute magnitudes, such as “always” or “never” - to be even more indicative of mental health forums than both the use of negative emotions and pronouns. In a study, researchers found the use of absolutist words 50% more in depression and anxiety forums, and about 80% more in suicidal-ideation forums. This is indicative of an all-or-nothing and black and white view that those living with mental illnesses experience, beyond just anxiety and depression.


The use of computerized text analysis provides an exciting and promising future for analyzing the language of those living with mental illnesses. As the technology improves, more accurate and specific algorithms will be developed to assess a wide-array of mental health disorders. These methods are a valuable tool in identifying and hopefully improving the lives of those living with mental illness.


For a more detailed look into this study, you can check out the entire research article here


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