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Depression is a complex and widely varied psychological condition between individuals. About five percent of the world’s population or 350 million people live with depression, and 20 percent of them develop psychotic symptoms. Experts have been trying to figure out how to spot and communicate with depressed people. According to a new study published in Clinical Psychological Science, depression has a language and that words can be organized and compiled using computerized text analysis methods.
People can sometimes feel sad, hopeless or may lose certain interests. The feeling usually lasts for a few days as a reaction to events. However, persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest are common signs of clinical depression. The persistence can last from several weeks to months that negatively affect school or work performance, family and social life, and personal relationships.
The usual psychological symptoms of depression include lack of motivation, difficulty in making decisions, feeling anxious or worried, helplessness, and thoughts of self-harm. Social signs of depression can be expressed by social avoidance, poor performance at school or work, and abandonment of hobbies and interests. The condition also affects physical health including the unexplained aches and pains throughout the body, disturbances during sleep, and changes in weight or appetite.
Depression can manifest in different forms, but not as grief. People who are grieving share similar characteristics with depressed people. However, grievances can allow sufferers to still enjoy several aspects of life while mourning their loss. Meanwhile, depression can be a constant companion that clouds the judgment of sufferers, preventing them to enjoy other aspects of life.
Since depression can change people, each symptom can be translated as the condition’s own language. From mental and emotional to physical and verbal changes, depression always leaves a mark. In the new study, the researchers used the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count or LIWC to count words in psychologically meaningful categories. The program can spot the classes of words, the prevalence of words, lexical diversity, the average length of the sentence, grammatical patterns, and more. They applied the program on personal essays and diaries of depressed people and found the language of depression can be split into two – content and style.
1. Content: Depressed people often relate what they feel into the content of their statements. They use specific words excessively, such as “lonely,” “sad,” and “miserable,” and other negative adjectives and adverbs, to show their emotion. The researchers also noticed that depressed people frequently use first-person pronouns like “I,” “me,” and “myself,” which denotes that their focus is on themselves. That also signify their lack of solid connection to other people around them. It seems that pronouns are good identifiers of depressed people, instead of negative words.
2. Style: Depressed people have a unique way to express themselves and to view the world. Based on the analysis of 64 different online mental health forums with more than 6,400 members, the researchers found absolutist words, words that represent absolution, such as "completely" and "nothing." It seems depressed people see the world as black and white, depending on how it manifests in their own perception. The researchers compared the rate of absolutist words to 19 other forums. The absolutist prevalence in depressed people is 50 percent greater than anxiety and depression forums, and 80 percent greater in self-harming ideation forums.
The findings suggest that diagnosis of depression can be based using language analysis techniques. Therapists will be able to determine the possibility of clinical depression from repetitive use of certain pronouns, negative adjectives and adverbs, and absolutist words. Another practical suggestion is the use of deep learning into developing algorithms to help diagnose people with depression tendency and others with different mental health problems. Computers with deep learning and advanced algorithms may be able to identify the correct word patterns and accurately classify subcategories of mental disorders.
“We are in the midst of a technological revolution whereby, for the first time, researchers can link daily word use to a broad array of real-world behaviors… Empirical results using LIWC demonstrate its ability to detect meaning in a wide variety of experimental settings, including to show attentional focus, emotionality, social relationships, thinking styles, and individual differences,” researchers noted.
Individuals who managed to spot a friend or a relative suffering from depression can help them by providing support. According to the National Health Service in the UK, they note that it is best to let depressed people know that you care, you are willing to listen, and you are to accept them without judgment. But supporting a depressed person can never be easy as they are likely to resist help. Being patient and staying in touch with them in a way or form are the keys to pull someone out of the darkest world of depression.
[메디컬리포트=Ralph Chen 기자]