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Sophie Hirsh
February 06, 2018 10:30 am

There’s a connection between language and depression, according to a new study published in Clinical Psychological Science. 

One of the study’s authors, Mohammed Al-Mosaiwi, explained that scientists have been trying to learn the correlation between depression and language for years. He and his research partner, Tom Johnstone, were able to finally make headway on the topic thanks to computer technology. For this study, researchers gathered written work by more than 6,400 people from 64 online mental health forums. They studied the writing using a computer text analysis method and analyzed the language patterns that the computer found.

After analyzing the data, Al-Mosaiwi noticed that the writers who suffered from depression used many more first-person singular pronouns (i.e. “I,” “me”) as compared to those who don’t suffer from depression. That group tended to use more general third-person pronouns (i.e. “he,” “them”). Additionally, people with depression were found to use a lot of negative emotion words (i.e. “lonely,” “sad,” “miserable”).

Those with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts also use more “absolutist words” (i.e. “always,” “nothing”).

It’s imperative to note that this study’s findings are about the correlation between depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and language. Not about causation.

Having depression doesn’t necessarily mean your language use will align with the study’s findings. And if you tend to use language like this, it does not necessarily mean you have depression or anxiety. That being said, the researchers theorize that in some cases the language analysis method may be a more effective way of diagnosing patients than seeing a trained therapist. Plus, mental health is a super important issue, so, as Al-Mosaiwi notes, it’s always good to have more ways to help those who are suffering.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Counselors are available 24/7.

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