The language of depression

People with depression use language differently – here’s how to spot it

Increasingly, computational linguists are able to detect patterns in how our moods are expressed in words. It’s not just the obvious, such as saying, “I’m happy or I’m sad,” but over- and underuse of classes of words.

Searching the ‘words’ of those suffering depression shows overrepresentation of ‘negative’ words as might be expected but also overuse of the pronoun ‘I’. Now, skewed patterns also include ‘absolutist’ vocabulary:

Our lab recently conducted a big data text analysis of 64 different online mental health forums, examining over 6,400 members. “Absolutist words” – which convey absolute magnitudes or probabilities, such as “always”, “nothing” or “completely” – were found to be better markers for mental health forums than either pronouns or negative emotion words.

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