Depression. A pit of despair for many people. Scientists have attempted to pin down the relationship between depression and language for a long time now, and technology has just given researchers the breakthrough they needed.
In the past, field studies were carried out by scientists who took notes on what people said. Now, computers can analyze banks of data in seconds, picking up on patterns that a human analyst might miss. Researchers fed personal essays, diary entries, and blog posts to their computers and found some interesting patterns in the language of people suffering from depression.
It should come as no surprise that people who deal with depression use more negative language, with words such as “lonely,” “sad,” and “miserable.” But what surprised the scientists was the use of first-person pronouns, such as “I,” “myself,” and “me.” People who suffer from depression apparently don’t use very many second- and third-person pronouns, such as “you,” “they,” and “them,” indicating that depression is a self-focused disease. Researchers found that the pronoun usage was more indicative of depression than the negative language.
However, on an examination of 64 different forums, absolutist language, using words such as “always,” “never,” and “completely,” was a better indicator of mental health issues than negative language or pronouns. On suicidal ideation forums, the use of absolutist language was 80% greater than language used by 19 control forums. This shows that people who suffer from depression have a black-and-white outlook.
Scientists hope that computers will soon be able to classify mental disorders from blog posts. Such classification is already outperforming trained therapists.