People Who Use These Words May Suffer From Depression

Sometimes the surefire signs are hiding in plain sight.

People Who Use These Words May Suffer From Depression
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According to a recent report by the World Economic Forum, depression is now a disorder afflicting upwards of 250 million people around the world. Everyone feels depressed every so often, but clinical depression is a serious illness that involves feeling low or empty almost all of the time, decreased energy levels, loss of interest in activities or hobbies, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, and more. It wreaks havoc on your personal life and physical health, and, in extreme cases, can lead to suicide.

But spotting depression in a friend or loved one isn’t always as easy as you might think. If there’s one thing that we learned from the tragic deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade last year, it’s that depression can hit anyone—even those who are wealthy and successful and who have enviable lives—and just because someone seems active and cheerful on the outside doesn’t mean that’s how they feel inside.

Now, a new study published in Clinical Psychological Science has revealed at least one of the ways in which you can potentially spot depression in a loved one: by paying attention to the types of words they use.

Researchers conducted a text analysis of 63 internet forums comprised of more than 6,4000 members and found that people who suffer from depression tend to speak in absolutes, often employing words like “nothing,” “never,” “everyone,” and “everything.”

“From the outset, we predicted that those with depression will have a more black-and-white view of the world, and that this would manifest in their style of language,” Mohammed Al-Mosaiwi, a PhD Candidate in Psychology at the University of Reading in the UK and lead author of this study, wrote in Quartz. “Compared to 19 different control forums (for example, Mumsnet and StudentRoom), the prevalence of absolutist words is approximately 50 percent greater in anxiety and depression forums, and approximately 80 percent greater for suicidal ideation forums.”

Even in forums for people who feel they have recovered from depression, absolutist language was significantly more prevalent than in control forums.

Other findings show that people suffering from depression tend to use a lot of negative adjectives and adverbs, such as “lonely,” “sad,” or “miserable,” which comes as no surprise. What’s more interesting is that people with depression tend to use significantly more first-person singular pronouns, such as “I,” “me,” and “myself,” which may reflect how alone they feel in the world.

“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.”

Studies like this one can be especially valuable for the parents of teenagers, who are often notoriously tight-lipped about the state of their emotional well-being.

One distressing recent study found that young Americans are the loneliest of all generations and that teen suicide in America is soaring. Of course, as noted by Al-Mosajwi, it is “possible to use a language associated with depression without actually being depressed,” but it’s a good thing to be aware of and can open up a broader discussion.

If you are suffering from depression, you can call the SAMHSA’s National Helpline at, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for free any time of day, though it’s also worth consulting a mental health specialist. It’s also worth knowing that there are ways to change your way of thinking, and thereby boost your happiness levels, outside of medication. For more on this, check out the major scientific takeaways from Yale’s Happiness Course.

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