The Words That Can Signal You’re Depressed

时间:2018-07-07 单词数:9590

双语 中文 英文




Feeling down? Pay attention to your language.


Language changes significantly in both content and word choice in people who are depressed, according to a growing body of research using computer programs to analyze speech and writing. People who are depressed tend to use the pronoun “I” more, indicating a greater focus on self. They also use “absolute” words like “must,” “completely,” “should” or “always,” reflecting an overly black-or-white outlook.


Scientists have long known that people change how they speak when they are depressed—their speech becomes lower, more monotone and more labored, with more stops, starts and pauses. But newer studies, including several published this year, have found differences in the actual words depressed people use.


People who are depressed “don’t see subtleties, and we can see this in the words they use,” says James W. Pennebaker, professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, who studies how language relates to a person’s psychological state.

得克萨斯大学奥斯汀分校的心理学教授佩尼贝克(James W. Pennebaker)说,抑郁症患者“看不到微妙差异,这一点我们可以从他们的措辞上看出来。”佩尼贝克研究人们语言与心理状态关系。

The study of computer-assisted language analysis for depression is still a nascent field, but apps and other technology that track language could eventually help doctors and patients identify a depressive episode more quickly. Since there are no biological markers for depression as there are for cancer and other diseases, therapists currently have to rely on a patient’s self-reported symptoms and on their own analysis to diagnose the disorder. Both can be highly subjective. The apparent suicides of designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain last week underscore just how challenging it can be to identify and treat depression.

针对抑郁症的计算机化语言分析研究目前仍处于起步阶段,但跟踪语言的应用程序和其他技术最终可能会帮助医生和患者更快地确定这是否预示着罹患抑郁症。因为抑郁症不像癌症和其他疾病一样有生物标记物,所以治疗师目前在诊断抑郁症时,不得不依赖患者对症状的自述和治疗师自己的分析判断,而这两者都可能过于主观。设计师凯特.丝蓓(Kate Spade)和名厨安东尼.波尔登(Anthony Bourdain)的自杀事件就凸显出识别和治疗抑郁症的难度。

In research published online in March in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers at the Universities of Arizona, Zurich and Texas, as well as Michigan State and Georgia Southern, gave questionnaires designed to measure depression to more than 4,700 people at six labs in the U.S. and Germany. 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 software analyzed their language. The results: In addition to using more negative, or sad, words, people who were depressed used more first-person pronouns or “I-talk” than people who were not depressed.

今年3月份在线发表在《人格与社会心理学杂志》(Journal of Personality and Social Psychology)上的一份研究显示,亚利桑那大学、苏黎世大学、得克萨斯大学以及密歇根州立大学和佐治亚南方大学的研究人员在美国和德国的六个实验室里对4,700余人做了抑郁调查问卷。问卷要求参与者用文字描述自己的生活、最近一段情感关系的破裂、对生活的满意度,或只是一般性的想法和感受。然后,研究人员用软件分析他们的文字。结果发现,除用了更多消极或悲伤的词语外,抑郁者比没有抑郁的人用了更多的第一人称代词“我”。

Pronouns show where a person is focusing attention, says Dr. Pennebaker, who is an author on the study. 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.” “But if you are thinking about yourself—if you are more self-conscious or self-aware, as depressed people are—you will use the first-person singular ‘I’ or ‘me,’” Dr. Pennebaker says.


Depressed people also tend to view the world in a concrete, black-or-white way, using words such as “must,” “completely,” “should” or “always” that express absolutist thinking, as shown in a series of three studies published together in Clinical Psychological Science in January.

今年1月份发表在《临床心理科学》(Clinical Psychological Science)上的三项系列研究显示,抑郁者还倾向于以具体的、非黑即白的方式来看待世界,用“必须”、“完全”、“应该”或“总是”这样的词来表达绝对化的想法。

The researchers, from the University of Reading in the U.K., used software to calculate the percentage of absolutist words used in messages by approximately 6,400 members of internet forums for depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and a host of control forums. They found that approximately 1.5% of words used by people in the depression and anxiety forums were absolutist—which was 50% more than those used by people in the control forums. The percentage was even higher for people in the suicidal ideation forums: about 1.8%.


Why are absolutist words so bad? People often don’t realize they are using them, and they can amp up negative thoughts. (Think about having your barbecue rained out. Saying “this always happens” is a much harsher thought than “sometimes the weather is unpredictable in June.”) Absolutist words also require that the world correspond to your view. (“I must get that promotion.” “My children must behave.”) “If the world doesn’t adhere to what you demand of it, that is when depression and anxiety set in,” says Mohammed Al-Mosaiwi, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the University of Reading and lead author on the studies. The more flexible you are, the better, he says.

为什么使用绝对词会如此糟糕?人们通常没有意识到自己在用这些词,而实际上这些词可以放大头脑里的消极想法。(譬如,你的烧烤野餐因雨取消,说“总是这样”的人比说“6月的天气有时就是没法预料”的人要消极得多。)使用绝对词的言下之意,是要求世界的运转符合你的看法。(“那个升职机会必须是我的。”“我的孩子必须守规矩。”)雷丁大学心理学博士学位候选人、上述研究的主要作者Mohammed Al-Mosaiwi说:“如果世界不按你的要求来,抑郁和焦虑就开始发作。”他说,一个人的想法越灵活越好。

Psychologists say people can use language as a tool to help them reframe their thoughts. “Very often, what you say is what you internalize,” says Mr. Al-Mosaiwi. Here are some tips:


Remember that the actual words you say matter, not just the thoughts they convey. Even if you are unable to replace negative words with positive ones, try replacing them with more accurate neutral ones. Instead of: “This party is horrible,” try “This event is not for me.”


Banish absolutes, especially in relation to your goals or relationships, where falling short of your expectations can be particularly depressing. These words and phrases include: always, never, nothing, must, every, totally, completely, constantly, entirely, all, definitely, full and one-hundred percent. Replace them with nuance. Instead of: “I can never catch a break,” try “Sometimes things don’t work out.”

摒弃绝对词,特别是在描述人生目标或情感关系时,因为在这两种情况下,达不到期望值可能会令人特别沮丧。这些绝对词包括:总是、永不、毫无、必须、每个、统统、彻底、一直、完全、所有、绝对、全部和百分百。不妨“偷梁换柱”,用别的词代替。不要讲 “我永远都不会交好运”,试着说 “事情有时就是不凑巧。”

Write. Keep a journal. Try a stream-of-consciousness writing exercise. Compose an email to a friend. Then analyze what words you are using. Are they too negative or absolutist? All about you? Tweak those sentences—and stay vigilant for those words in your speech.


Ask a loved one to help you identify absolutist or negative words or sentences and suggest reframing. It is easier to notice someone else’s language than our own.


Create a mantra you can use to override absolutist language. So instead of saying “This always happens to me,” say “This time. This happened this time.”


Put your mantra on sticky notes and place them where you can see them. Make it your screen saver. Have a needlepoint pillow made.


Pay attention to your use of the word “I.” If most of your sentences have “I” or “me” in them, you are probably too self-focused, says Dr. Pennebaker.