Signs of Depression Could Actually Be…Sounds
Many people know the physical signs and symptoms of depression:
- Lack of interest
- Lethargy or exhaustion
- Sleeping a lot or a little
- Unrelenting sadness (you can often see it on someone’s face)
But what if you learned that listening for the signs of depression can be even more effective?
Research shows that signs of depression may be even more obvious through listening. There is a growing body of evidence that depressed people speak differently – both in content and style.
There are three distinct ways in which the content and style of how people talk may be indicative of depression.
Talking in Absolutes
“Everyone’s against me.”
“I never want to do anything.”
“I’m tired of always feeling like crap.”
Talking in these absolute terms could be indicative of depression according to a study, published in Clinical Psychological Science. Researchers analyzed text using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) textual analysis software in online forums. They looked at forums where more than 6,400 members discussed such topics as anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
What researchers found is that people in these forums used more absolutist words than used in other forums. These words indicate magnitudes or probabilities without nuance (always, never, nothing, must, every, totally, completely, constantly, entirely, all, definitely, full and one-hundred percent).
Why are absolute terms a problem? For one, we know that language influences thought. And according to Merri Bame, who taught speech and theatre at Bowling Green State University and is the author of the Breaking Down Barriers blog “Using these words limits our willingness to accept. They restrict our thinking, demonstrate our bias, and sometimes condemn. When others hear our usage of these words, they bristle. When we hear others use these words, we feel defeated. Absolute words display judgment.”
Another problem is there may be a language disconnect between healthcare providers and patients. Doctors typically do not say “never” or “100%”–especially when they are talking about illnesses and remission. So doctors and depressed patients may be in effect speaking a completely different language, making it difficult to use talk therapy to move forward in a mutually agreeable way.
The Self-Centered & Negative Language of Depression
Using the word “I” isn’t necessarily a sign of being narcissistic, but it is a sign of being inwardly focused, as is often the case of someone battling depression.
In fact, using first-person pronouns could be a sign of depression, according to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Researchers used questionnaires to measure depression of more than 4,700 people at six sites. Participants were asked to write about their lives, a recent relationship breakup, their level of satisfaction with life, or just their general thoughts and feelings. Then researchers used the LIWC software to analyze their language.
Not surprisingly, people who had depression tended to use the terms “I,” “me” and “myself” more often than people who did not suffer from depression. Someone who is really interested in another person will use the third person “he” or “she.” Someone closely focused on a relationship will use “we.”
The researchers also found that respondents have a tendency to write more negatively:
“It will surprise no one to learn that those with symptoms of depression use an excessive amount of words conveying negative emotions, specifically negative adjectives and adverbs – such as ‘lonely,’ ‘sad’ or ‘miserable’.”
Speech Patterns Change with Depression
The content of what people are saying isn’t the only warning sign of depression, according to the Journal of Neurolinguistics. The journal published a study that showed how speech patterns changed when people are depressed: their speech becomes lower, more monotone, more labored, and has more stops, starts and pauses. And as depression worsens, the individual’s speaking becomes more gravelly, hoarse, and less fluent.
However, the study showed that as people responded to depression treatment, their speech patterns “had significantly greater pitch variability, paused less while speaking, and spoke faster than at baseline.”
How to Help Someone with Depression
If you suspect a loved one may be depressed, watching out for the physical symptoms is important, but listening may be just as important. Listening to what friends and family are saying, as well as how they are saying it, can provide valuable clues and may help to get them on the road to mental wellness.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, please read more here: https://genesight.com/blog/patient/five-things-you-can-do-to-manage-depression-symptoms/ or https://genesight.com/blog/patient/depression-and-physical-symptoms-for-patients-the-pain-is-real/
Our articles are for informational purposes only and are reviewed by our Medical Information team, which includes PharmDs, MDs, and PhDs. Do not make any changes to your current medications or dosing without consulting your healthcare provider.
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