Language reveals depression: “depressives speak differently”

Language betrays depression:'Depressive sprechen anders'. Menschen mit einer Depression konnen mutlos und traurig sein. Das spiegelt sich in ihren Formulierungen wider. (Quelle: Getty Images/ Vladimir Vladimirov)

Depression does not only affect the behavior of the sufferer. Language can also provide valuable clues about the illness. Relatives should listen especially carefully to these phrases.


In 2018, a team of researchers from the University of Reading in the United Kingdom used computer analysis to examine the linguistic differences between people with depression and those without. In total, contributions of more than 6.000 users in over 60 online forums evaluated. The result: depressed people more often use words that express negative feelings and moods.

Where are the causes of depression? In depression, there is often a metabolic disorder in the brain. The neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine are not produced in sufficient quantities. Consequently, they can’t do their job properly in regulating emotions. Hormonal changes can also be a cause of the disease. Susceptibility to depression can also be inherited. An indication of this can be that the disease has also occurred more frequently in other family members.

Depression: Ten misconceptions

Misconception No. 1: Too much stress makes despressive. That can't be said as a blanket statement. Great stress at work, for example, can indeed intensify depression, but the reasons are more complex. Often, the tendency to depression is biologically determined and is reinforced by bad experiences, for example in childhood. (Source: Getty Images/ FluxFactory)

Misconception #2: People who are depressed commit suicide: This is not true. Not everyone who is depressed is potentially suicidal. It depends on the severity of the depression. Nevertheless, depression changes the person's thinking and view of the world and should therefore be taken very seriously. (Source: Getty Images/MarioGuti)

Misconception No. 3: Depression is not a disease: This is false. While it is often said that depressed people are simply sensitive or touchy. But that depression is actually a disease, like diabetes or others, very few people know. (Source: Getty Images/FollowTheFlow)

Misconception No. 5: More people suffer from depression today than in the past: This is not entirely true. According to statistics, there are actually more depressives today than 20 or 30 years ago. This is partly because today's working life demands more of people and often lacks social networks. however, depression is recognized earlier nowadays and help is sought. (Source: Getty Images/AzmanL)

Misconception No. 6: Antidepressants are addictive: No. Certain psychiatric drugs, such as anxiety relievers, can be addictive but antidepressants are not one of them. The assumption that antidepressants change people is also a misconception. (Source: Getty Images/fizkes)

Misconception #7: Love and a good partnership prevent depression: Unfortunately, not entirely true. An understanding, loving partner or family and friends can be a positive resource. However, it is not a hundred percent protection against depression. (Source: Getty Images/PixelsEffect)

Misconception No. 8: Women are affected more often than men: This is not entirely true either. The fact that the percentage of women is statistically somewhat higher could be due to the fact that women are more willing to go to the doctor or talk to friends about the illness. Men, on the other hand, often try to sort out the problem with themselves. (Source: Getty Images/dragana991)

Misconception #9: You can tell depressives have a problem: Not always! Especially if you don't know someone that well, depression can often remain hidden. Those affected often try to conceal their problem to the outside world. They may not look particularly happy, but they don't look depressed either. (Source: Getty Images/fizkes)

Photo series with 10 images

Verbal symptoms: These words can indicate depression

Adjectives such as "lonely" are frequently used, "sad" or "miserable" Used. Also absolute words like "always", "Never" and "total" are often found. In addition, depressed people are significantly more likely to use pronouns in the first person singular, i.e. "I", "my", "me" and "me. According to the researchers, this is because depressed individuals are highly focused on themselves. In addition, they often lack contact with the outside world.

Armin Rosl is also convinced that a language analysis can help to recognize depression. The spokesman for the German Depression League (DDL) himself suffered from depression in 2010 – and in retrospect recognizes himself in the research results: "It is due to the clinical picture of depression that those affected are despondent and sad. This is reflected in negative formulations. If depression is suspected, it pays to listen more closely."

  • Self-test:Depression test – Are you affected?
  • Recognizing depressive disordersThree symptoms are important

Telltale phrases: React to them immediately

In addition to using negative terms, depressed people also suddenly articulate things they have never or rarely said before. And not just once or twice, but again and again. "The same record is always playing, so to speak", says Rosl. Sentences like "I don’t like it anymore, "I have no idea what’s wrong with me", "I am very tired" or "I am worth nothing are typical for the disease.

If suicidal thoughts are expressed, relatives should take this very seriously. "If the other person utters sentences such as ‘I’m going to kill myself,’ ‘I’m not worth anything anymore,’ or ‘I don’t like it anymore,’ the affected person urgently needs help and must not be left alone.", emphasizes Rosl.

  • Untypical complaintsThis is the course of high-functioning depression

Depressives often have no strength for communication

Depressives often close themselves off completely from communication. According to Rosl, depressive patients withdraw because every conversation is a great effort for them. They want to be alone. "Sufferers find it difficult to find the strength to do anything at all. Even to speak. In this respect, the study is right in saying that depressives use a different language, says Rosl.

In particular, he says, it is noticeable that those affected speak differently than they did before their illness. Not only a lot of negative things, but sometimes also confusing, incomprehensible things. For example, many of those affected would suddenly have existential fear and would formulate that they fear financial ruin – although there are no signs of this at all.

Suspicion of depression: Talking to those affected

But how does one deal with the suspicion of depression?? Rosl knows from experience how valuable conversations can be. However, the patient should not be overburdened. A good conversation starter is, for example, "You know, I’ve noticed in the last few days that you’ve changed. Try to describe your current feelings. I would like to try to understand and comprehend it."

The best time for such a conversation is outside the daily routine, for example during a walk. "The person affected has to come out of his or her shell, even if he or she doesn’t really want to. Nevertheless: Take it under the arm and take it with you. Affected persons should always have the feeling that they are not left alone with their illness. That attention is paid to them."

Depression: Personal hygiene is often difficult

Another sign of depression can be a lack of physical hygiene. "That was also the case with me during my severe depressive phase: I had neither the desire nor the strength to shave, wash or put on new clothes every day. I also tried to avoid company. Affected people want to hide. Mostly in bed, they don’t want to get up anymore. Because they don’t have the strength to do so either, as they often lie awake at night brooding.", says Rosl.

  • Other symptoms:Depression in men often goes unrecognized
  • A feeling of hopelessness:Help with depression and suicidal thoughts
  • Depression:These are the causes and this is how they can be treated
  • Types of depression:These are the forms of depression
  • High Functioning Depression:This is how the depression of the successful progresses
  • In the depths of my soul:Is it a low mood or depression?

Treatment: When to see a doctor

If the condition of the person concerned does not improve after three to four weeks, it is advisable to talk to a doctor. After a diagnosis has been made, the doctor can recommend psychotherapy to the patient or treat the illness with medication (antidepressants). Depending on the severity, both can also be combined. Light therapy and regular exercise can also show success in treating depressed people.

  • German Depression League e.V.

Important notice: The information provided is in no way a substitute for professional advice or treatment by trained and accredited doctors. The content of t-online cannot and must not be used to make independent diagnoses or initiate treatment.

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