Recognized as the leading cause of disability in the United States among Americans aged 15 to 45, Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is estimated to impact approximately 6.7% of the adult population in any given year.

Despite its high prevalence, many of those who are living with the disorder will never seek help largely due to the incredibly negative stigma that surrounds mental illness. Believing that they need to be ‘strong’ and soldier forward, they will hide their battles, internalizing the pain, which only makes the condition far worse.

While it’s easy to say that we need to turn society’s view of mental illness around, in practice it is far more difficult. This is a process that requires rewiring years of misinformation, judgment, and stereotypes, changing the way that society, as a whole, views and treats those who are battling mental illness. It’s also important to note that this battle isn’t new – in fact, in 1999 the United States Surgeon General labeled stigma as the largest barrier that those seeking mental health care would have to face… Almost 20 years ago and we are still facing these barriers today.

One way that we can assist those that we care about is to pay attention to the subtle signs and red flags that something may be off in their world. Often those who are struggling want the help and support of loved ones, but they struggle to reach out and ask for it. While it isn’t a conversation to take lightly or to be forced upon anyone, if you do see signs that someone is struggling, opening the door to allow them to start the conversation should they feel comfortable doing so may be exactly what they need.

While there are many signs of depression, such as withdrawing from friends or family, or a lack of interest in things that they were once passionate about, experts now say that their choice of vocabulary may provide some insight. A recent study published in ‘Clinical Psychological Science’ explored the connection between depression and language choices, and their results were fascinating. They studied the diaries and hand-written notes of a number of individuals who had been diagnosed with depression, as well as the recorded speech of some well-known sufferers such as Sylvia Plath and Kurt Cobain.

The study revealed that depressed individuals use language differently in the following ways:

#1 – Choice of Pronouns

Pay attention to the way that your loved one addresses pronouns in their conversation. While a healthy person may focus on their group of friends or their romantic partner, talking about how ‘we’ should try this or that sounds like something that ‘all of us’ would enjoy, the conversation is different with someone who is depressed. The disease creates feelings of isolation in many who suffer, cutting them off from their friends, family and loved ones. As such, they find themselves speaking as though they are alone in all that they do, sticking with pronouns like ‘I,’ ‘me,’ and ‘myself.’

#2 – Self Blame

When they are describing situations that aren’t working out the way that they would prefer, those who are battling depression will often discuss it as though they personally are at fault for things failing, even if they had no direct impact on the situation at hand. For example, if they were planning an outdoor get together with friends and it is canceled due to rain, they will blame themselves for not checking enough weather services to ensure that they knew what to expect. This is a reflection of their current emotional state, genuinely believing in many cases that they are ruining everything that they touch.

#3 – Negative Adjectives/Phrasing

When someone is suffering from depression, they are faced with a never-ending wave of negative self-talk, coloring the way that they look around them. For this reason, they may not be faced with an outside negative influence and still find themselves experience negative emotions. This carries through to the word choices that they use, providing others with a glimpse into their mind. Often they will describe things using words that are seen as ‘negative’ descriptors such as ‘miserable,’ ‘lonely,’ ‘sad,’ or ‘hopeless.’ They are often more likely to include references to death in their daily conversation as a passing statement as it is a topic that may be so normal to them in their mind that it is natural to speak of it openly.

#4 – Black and White Thinking

Often when someone is depressed, they see the world in a clear division of black and white, good and bad, happiness and sadness. Failing to have the energy or care to understand the finer details and nuances of the shades of grey in the world, they focus instead on sweeping generalizations of how the world works. This will cause them to use words like ‘always,’ ‘never,’ ‘nothing,’ or ‘completely’ more often than the average healthy individual.

Image via Entertainment Weekly

Leave a Reply