Research Therapies — 04 November 2014

Therapists could pick up signs of depression just be listening to how their patients talk, after a study found that unhappy people speak in a different tone.

Researchers discovered that vocal features change as feelings of depression get worse, becoming more gravelly, hoarse, and less fluent.

They hope the findings will allow doctors or psychotherapists to spot when people are feeling down, even when they claim that they are happy.

And they want to develop an app which records a patient’s voice pattern so that it can be checked over time to spot the onset of depression.

Acoustician Dr Carol Espy-Wilson of the University of Maryland said she hoped that the new technology would appeal to teenagers and young adults who are vulnerable but may be unwilling to seek help.counseling-99740

She said: “Their emotions are all over the place during this time, and that’s when they’re really at risk for depression.

“We have to reach out and figure out a way to help kids in that stage.”

The study examined six patients who took part in a 2007 study which investigated the relationship between depression and speech patterns.

They measured depression levels each week using the Hamilton Depression Scale, a standard clinical evaluation tool to measure the severity of depression.

Over the six-week course of the previous study, they had been registered as depressed some weeks and not depressed other weeks.

The new study compared these patients’ Hamilton scores with their speech patterns each week, and found a correlation between depression and certain acoustic properties.

Further research is planned to compare speech patterns in individuals with no history of mental illness to those with depression to create an acoustic profile of depression-typical speech.

The study was presented at the 168th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Indianapolis.

Previous studies have shown that the risk of a mother suffering from post-natal depression could be predicted weeks before the birth of her child simply by monitoring her Twitter feed.

Microsoft labs has discovered that it is possible to spot which pregnant women will struggle with motherhood based on the language they use before the birth.

Intriguingly, the algorithm does not depend on the mother talking about the pregnancy or her baby, but picks up subtle verbal cues which reveal her underlying unhappiness or anxiety.

General negativity in language, with a rise in the number of words like ‘hate’ ‘miserable’ ‘disappointed’, increased use of the word ‘I’ and a jump in the number of expletives are all clues that a new mum will suffer post-natal depression.

This article first appeared on ‘The Telegraph’ on 3 November 2014.

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