The power of words: a neural network was taught to diagnose depression


Today, 5% of the adult population suffers from depression. Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) call depression one of the main causes of disability worldwide.

At the same time, a huge number of people do not believe in the very existence of the disease. At the same time, the experience of COVID-19 often leads to the development of depression, the symptoms of which range from apathy and despondency to attempts to settle accounts with life.

And since it is not easy to detect depression, scientists are developing new methods of diagnosis. For example, speech, both oral and written, allows you to suspect something is wrong. According to a new study, there is a group of words that regularly appear in the speech of people with depression.

A disease that can’t be seen

Being a complex disease, depression destroys life. The constant feeling of guilt, problems with appetite, low self-esteem, sleep disturbance, lethargy and loss of efficiency are her forte. But since everyone gets sad from time to time, recognizing depression is not easy.

From a medical point of view, depression is an illness that affects mood and ability to function .

In short, depression is more than just a bad mood. Every day it has a serious impact on both physical and mental health. It is important to note that everyone experiences the symptoms described above from time to time, which does not necessarily mean that a person has depression. Likewise, not every person with depression has the classic symptoms.

Depression spares no one

Language of depression

According to experts from the University of Massachusetts (MIT), depression can be suspected by analyzing the oral and written speech of a person. Moreover, sometimes the “language of depression” can have a strong influence on others.

In fact, scientists have long been trying to establish the exact relationship between depression and language. And with the help of new technologies, they succeeded.

A study published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science in 2018 uncovered a group of words that can help accurately predict the presence or absence of depression.

Depression is a mental health disorder in which a person loses the ability to enjoy life.

This approach helps to identify linguistic features that even qualified doctors can miss. Fortunately, now we can calculate the percentage prevalence of words and groups of words, lexical diversity, average sentence length, grammatical patterns and other indicators using technology.

The results of this approach reveal clear and consistent differences in speech between people with and without depressive symptoms.

The power of a word

So language can be divided into two components: content and style. It is hardly surprising today that people with symptoms of depression use an excessive number of words that convey negative emotions, in particular negative adjectives and adverbs such as “lonely”, “sad” or “unhappy” .

Equally interesting is the use of pronouns. People with symptoms of depression use significantly more first person singular pronouns “I” and significantly fewer second and third person pronouns such as “they” or “she”. The new pronoun model suggests that people with depression are more self-focused .

Usually depression is the sum of biological, psychological and social factors; it is rare that only one specific cause leads to depression.

As the researchers said, pronouns are more reliable in identifying depression than words with negative emotions. It turns out that depression makes people focus on themselves. Or is it the other way around and symptoms of depression appear in people who are focused on themselves?

The world in black and white

To answer these questions, the researchers analyzed text from 64 different online mental health forums and interviewed more than 6,400 participants.

Words that convey absolute values ​​or probabilities, such as “always”, “nothing”, or “completely”, have been found to be better markers of mental health than pronouns or words expressing negative emotions.

From the very beginning, we predicted that people suffering from depression perceive the world in black and white, which is manifested in their speech style, the authors of the scientific work write.

Depression is characterized by thoughts of one’s own weakness and worthlessness.

Compared to 19 different control groups, the prevalence of similar words is about 50% higher in anxiety and depression forums and about 80% higher in suicidal thoughts forums.

At the same time, words with negative emotions were less common in forums about suicidal thoughts than in forums about anxiety and depression. It should be noted that those who have had depressive symptoms in the past are more likely to show them again in speech and writing.

The symptoms of depression can vary quite a lot from person to person.

Ultimately, it’s how you feel over time that determines whether you have depression. However, having more tools available to detect this condition is certainly important for better health and suicide prevention.

We talked earlier about what antioxidants are and their health benefits. Be healthy and take care of yourself and your loved ones.

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