Must read: Four critical tips on how to know if your loved one is depressed

Depressed people are self-focused [Photo: Courtesy]

From the way you move and sleep, to how you interact with people, depression changes just about everything. Jacqueline Mahugu explores the different ways through which depressed people communicate.

 A new study has confirmed what mental health specialists have always suspected – that people suffering from depression and anxiety use language differently from the rest of the population.

 The study, published in Clinical Psychological Science, has determined some words, which when used in frequency or used in a particular manner, can help doctors accurately determined if a person is suffering from depression. You can also tell if your loved one is suffering from depression based on their words, and get them help to cope with it.

 1.  Words filled with negativity

“Depressed people look at the world negatively. Because depression comes from emotions and emotions are usually determined by the thinking, which we call cognition. The way somebody thinks is how the feelings will become, and cognition also informs what you will speak about,” says Dr Charity Waithima, a clinical psychologist.

“They will use negative talk and negative words. For example, if it is a happy day like Valentine’s Day, a normal person will comment on it like, ‘Oh it is Valentine’s Day!’

However, a depressed person will say, ‘What a boring day. I have nobody to love me’. They use negative talk. That negative talk informs their feelings, which exacerbates their depression creating a vicious cycle.”

Negative emotions plague people with depression, and this seeps into the way they use language. Their language will be filled with words associated with negative emotions, such as ‘miserable’, ‘lonely’ and ‘sad’, more than the average population, a reflection of the way they feel.

2.     Self-focus

“Depressed people are self-focused,” says Dr Waithima. “The self-focusing is towards how others can meet their needs. They rely on others to meet their emotional needs. For example, if I am depressed and I expect you to call me and tell me you love me, if you do not do that, I will despair and it might not even occur to me that I can also call you and express my love.

Depressed people have a tendency to withdraw into themselves and get away from the world. They isolate themselves, wanting to be alone most of the time.

It goes beyond introspectiveness, where one take an objective look at their inner selves and is mostly about them not wanting to interact with the rest of the world. This extreme focus on themselves shows up in their language also.

Their speech will be littered with more use of the personal pronouns, “I’ and ‘me’, much more than in the average population. This is not selfishness, it’s that they are much more sensitive to everything that affects them and do not connect with other people in the normal way.

This can include one’s own family, even their own baby, as was witnessed with Sage Chemutai, a Kenyan singer who said that she had suffered postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter Ayanna. This kind of depression happens after childbirth and is bad enough that it drives some women to suicide or to harming themselves or their own child. 

In a past interview, she said, “After I had my baby, I suffered from post-partum depression which turned into depression. I didn’t want to leave the house, I had a lot of anxiety and even shut everyone out.

 I was scared to release my song because I didn’t know if people would like it. I doubted myself to a point I just wanted to be alone. I had a writer’s block but early last year, I started to write songs and recorded a lot of it but still I was still scared.”

 3. Absolutist thinking

Absolutist thinking comes with absolutist words that convey completeness of something, such as always, completely, constantly, definitely, entire, ever, everyone, everything, full, must, never, nothing, totally and whole. In the study, they found that the use of such absolutist words in forums focused on anxiety and depression was approximately 50 percent greater than in regular forums, and the prevalence of the words was approximately 80 percent greater for forums whose participants regularly contemplated and discussed suicide.

Mentally healthy people have expectations, but depressed people take them to the next level.

Such people define things in absolute terms and it goes both ways, so if they say they are happy, they will say things like, ‘I am completely happy’ or ‘totally satisfied’ or ‘extremely sad’.

Mistakes that can easily be corrected are viewed as being ‘total failure.’

They view everything in extremes and there is virtually no wiggle room. It is all or nothing. If these expectations aren’t met, they plunge into despair and sadness to an abnormal extent. It has to happen exactly as they envisioned it.

These expectations are not only on the world around them, but they also pile the pressure on themselves, such that if they do not meet their own requirements, they become emotionally distressed. This greatly lowers their self-esteem, which in turn exacerbates their depression, as they perceive themselves as being incapable of meeting whatever expectations they may have had.

 4.       Helplessness and hopelessness

When depressed people have self-focus coupled with negative thinking, the helplessness and hopelessness that they feel shows up in their language.

“If someone else does not call them, they perceive it like they are completely helpless, like they cannot help you even if they have your number.

They will keep expressing this hopelessness and helplessness in different ways,” says Dr Waithima. They feel like it will never get better, and that there is nothing they can do about it.

They are typically pessimistic and unmotivated. Not only do they feel like they are completely helpless and the situation hopeless, but sometimes even blame themselves for negative situations in life. This is why some people suffering from depression contemplate suicide, as they feel that it is the only way to fix the situation.

This will show up in their language and they will say things like, “I am not capable of doing it” and “This place would be better without me.”