Science: Psychologists decode a kind of language code for depressed people

Science: Psychologists decode a kind of language code for depressed people

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People with depression change the way they speak

In a study from England, scientists examined the way in which depressed people speak. Accordingly, depressed people more often use absolute formulations. Identifying commonly used words and expressions could help diagnose the disease more quickly and even identify possible suicidal thoughts. According to the study, the language changes both in written and in oral form.

Depression changes the affected massively. In addition to the rhythm of sleep and the way you move and interact with others, the way of speaking also changes. Famous people like Kurt Cobain have had a strong impact on other people with such a language style characterized by depression. A team of researchers from the University of Reading has now investigated words and language styles that are often used by depressed people in order to better diagnose the disease. The results of the study were published in the journal "Clinical Psychological Science".

Well-known artists gave the clues

The analysis of individual depressed people provided previous knowledge in this area. These include, for example, personal essays and diary entries by depressives and the works of well-known artists who suffered from depression, such as Kurt Cobain and Sylvia Plath. Sound recordings of people with depression have also given insights into the spoken word.

The results of this research have already shown clear and consistent evidence of language differences between people with and without depression symptoms.

Computer-aided analyzes helped to make a breakthrough

Compared to traditional analysis methods, in which texts had to be worked through manually, the scientists were able to process an extremely large amount of data with the help of computer-aided text analysis methods. This enabled the researchers to crystallize linguistic features that clearly identify depressed people. The characteristics include, for example, the frequency of certain words, the average sentence length and grammatical patterns.

Which expressions do depressives use frequently?

As you might guess, depressed people use words that convey negative emotions more often. Negative adjectives such as lonely, sad or unhappy in particular are used frequently. The use of Singluar first-person pronouns was also striking. The word "I" was used significantly more often by depressed people than by healthy people. Depressed people also use fewer second- or third-person pronouns like you, he, she or it.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

These language patterns suggest that people with depression are more focused on themselves and less connected to others. According to the researchers, the pronouns are actually more reliable in diagnosing depression than the negative emotions. Now the researchers are facing the famous chicken and egg question. Does depression cause concentration on yourself or are people who focus on themselves more likely to experience symptoms of depression?

Depressed people use absolutist words more often

The scientists also found that people with depression are more likely to use words that convey an absolute size or probability, as always, completely, or nothing. Absolute words were used 50 percent more often in fear and depression forums than in 19 control forums.

The researchers even noticed an 80 percent increase in people with suicidal thoughts. Also, people who have had depressive symptoms seem to have a greater tendency to think absolutist, even if there are currently no symptoms of depression. This could play a role in the early detection of depressive episodes.

What practical effects can the results have?

Understanding the language use of depressed people can help understand how people feel. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 300 million people worldwide live with depression. This represents an increase of more than 18 percent since 2005.

Given these numbers, the researchers said it is important to have more tools at hand to recognize the disease and prevent tragic suicides like Plath and Cobain's.

Improved research methods

The results of the study also show what possibilities modern computer-based analysis methods offer. According to the scientists, improving machine learning classification with more complex algorithms can help to open up deeper perspectives that can also be applied to other mental health problems such as perfectionism, feelings of inferiority or social anxiety. (vb)

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