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People with depression are more likely to use certain words — here’s how they express themselves

Published: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 2:45 PM
By: Fiza Pirani, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

How a person talks and types can tell you a lot about their mental health.

» RELATED: 5 signs you should ask your doctor about depression

According to new research published in the journal “Clinical Psychological Science,” certain language may help identify whether someone is suffering from depression.

For their study, the researchers conducted a computerized text analysis of 63 internet forums including more than 6,400 members in total.

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They hypothesized that individuals in “anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation” forums would have a “more black and white view of the world,” study author Mohammed Al-Mosaiwi wrote in an academic article. The researchers believed this view of the world would manifest itself in absolutist language, using words such as "always," “nothing” or “completely.”

» RELATED: When love isn’t enough: A daughter’s suicide leaves a grieving father searching for answers

When compared to 19 control forums, Al-Mosaiwi wrote that that the prevalence of such absolutist words was approximately 50 percent greater in anxiety and depression forums, and approximately 80 percent greater for suicidal ideation forums.

In addition to absolutist language, the scientists found that those with symptoms of depression used significantly more first person singular pronouns, such as “me,” “myself” and “I.” They used significantly fewer second and third person pronouns − “they,” “them” or “she.”

» RELATED: The suicide rate for teen girls is the highest it’s been in 40 years — Is social media to blame? 

“This pattern of pronoun use suggests people with depression are more focused on themselves, and less connected with others,” Al-Mosaiwi wrote. “Researchers have reported that pronouns are actually more reliable in identifying depression than negative emotion words.”

That doesn’t mean everyone who uses the language associated with depression is actually depressed. Researchers note it’s how you feel over time that determines whether you are suffering.

But the new findings are a testament to using machine learning to help identify mental health problems. According to Al-Mosaiwi, researchers have already started using computerization to study specific subcategories of perfectionism, self-esteem issues and social anxiety.

» RELATED: Perfectionism is a major issue for millennials and their mental health, study says 

According to the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression, and it’s the leading cause of disability worldwide.

Additionally, approximately 800,000 people die of suicide each year −that’s one person every 40 seconds. In the U.S., between 1999 and 2014, the suicide rate rose by 24 percent. And according to recent data released Thursday by Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates among 15- to 19-year-old girls doubled between 2007 and 2015, reaching a 40-year high.

More resources:

Suicide prevention resources for parents, guardians and families

Suicide prevention resources for teens

Suicide prevention resources for survivors of suicide loss

More resources and programs at the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

Atlanta Mood Support: DBSA Metro Atlanta