It is but a known fact that depression affects mood, sleep, energy, relationships, social connections, physical health, work-life, decision-making skills, interests, hobbies, self-esteem, hope, and various other aspects of life. But do you know that depression affects language too?
People with depressive symptoms speak languages differently, which is an unexpected negative outcome of this deadly mental health problem.
According to a new study – published in Clinical Psychological Science – by Mohammed Al-Mosaiwi and other researchers – on the relationship between depression and language – you can easily spot a person with depression analyzing the use of written and spoken language and the results are mind-blowing.
Depression is the burning issue with more than 264 million people of all ages suffering from this mental health condition. Intense research is going on to find anything that can help spot people with depression and prevent suicides.
Celebrity suicides such as those of Sylvia Plath and Kurt Cobain have played a great role in depression awareness. To prevent such tragic suicides it is very important to spot the condition using more tools.
Researchers say your language speaks a lot about your depression.
Language of depression
What helped Mohammed Al-Mosaiwi and his team ace this study is the personal essays and diary entries by depressed people including the work of popular artists like Cobain and Plath. Cobain’s songs and Plath’s poems highlighted the undercurrent of depression (Al-Mosaiwi & Johnstone, 2018).
On that note, if you check one of the last few songs of Chester Bennington – “I don’t like my mind right now” clearly depicts his depressed state of mind. He has composed many lyrics hinting at addiction and abuse. It means depression affects language, style of speaking, vocabulary, and writing to a great extent.
Sometimes this “language of depression” can have a powerful effect on others.
So, observing the snippets, phrases, or words and patterns of speaking and writing can help one decode consistent differences in language between people with and without depression.
Technology and linguistic analysis
Thanks to the technological advances that took study this to a new level. A few decades ago, researchers manually collected notes and data to analyze reading and writing style to determine whether they are typical of depressed people. The traditional linguistic analysis was a tedious and daunting process!
But, in this digital age, social media platforms and tools like virtual therapy, artificial intelligence, and machine learning (computers that can learn from experience without being programmed) allow quick identification of linguistic patterns indicative of depression. Large data can be collected and analyzed in minutes saving time and cost as well. This type of analysis is far more effective than those done by trained therapists. Language analysis using these modern tools helps in classifying various mental health conditions.
Further statistical tools also help in fast and accurate calculation of metrics like
- Percentage prevalence of words
- Classes of words
- Lexical diversity
- Average sentence length
- Grammatical patterns
What was the study all about
The research team analyzed texts from over 63 internet forums comprising more than 6,400 members. The researchers focused on
- Language style
- Negative vocabulary
Researchers looked for the use of negative emotion words such as “sad” or “depressed”. They also analyzed the use of pronouns like “I”, “they”, “we” people in various internet forums as they are better indicators of depression than the negative emotion words.
The reason for analyzing pronouns is their functional role in language as they determine the style of writing. People use pronouns subconsciously and can reveal one’s beliefs and values though not expressed directly (Al-Mosaiwi & Johnstone, 2018).
With the help of Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count software, researchers screened for “absolutist” words or phrases that don’t allow detailed consideration of any situation or event. It is because people with depression don’t verbalize their thoughts in relative terms.