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People use language differently when they're depressed - this is how to spot it

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Harvey Day
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In recent years there’s been a really positive drive towards opening up about depression and mental health, and we’re collectively rejecting unhelpful distractions like Blue Monday – even if there is still a desperate need for more funding for mental health services.

And part on this focus on mental health is an exploration of how tech can be used to identify people who might be struggling. We recently wrote about how language analysis can be used to track how stressed you are, and now there’s research to show that linguistic software can help identify people with depression.

According to a study by Mohammed Al-Mosaiwi and Tom Johnstone in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, there are some key linguistic markers to look out for. The researches used computerised text analysis methods which allow the processing of extremely large data banks in minutes, according to Business Insider. Here’s what they found:

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1. More first-person pronouns

The study found that people with symptoms of depression use many more first person singular pronouns – including ‘me’, ‘myself’ and ‘I’ – and far fewer second and third person pronouns – such as ‘you’, ‘they’ and ‘he’. Researchers believe this is because people with depression tend to focus on themselves and are often less connected to other people.

2. Negative words

Unsurprisingly, people with symptoms of depression use many more words that carry negative emotions, specifically negative adjectives and adverbs. These could include words like ‘lonely’, ‘sad’ and ‘miserable’.

3. Absolutist words

The researchers also found that people with symptoms of depression are more likely to use so-called ‘absolutist’ words. These words – like ‘always’, ‘completely’ or ‘nothing’ – convey feelings of totality and potentially a struggle to find perspective.

The researchers say in the study: “It is interesting that absolutist words tracked the severity of affective disorder forums more faithfully than negative emotion words… absolutist thinking may be a vulnerability factor.”

If you’d like to read more, we recently spoke to psychotherapist Richard Nicholls who gave us some great advice on how to help boost your overall levels of happiness this year – and you can find out how happy you are with this handy quiz

  • If you’re feeling depressed, reach out to the experts at Samaritans or Mind

(Images: iStock / Pixabay)