Could changes in speech patterns help diagnose depression early?

Could changes in speech patterns help diagnose depression early?

Could changes in speech patterns help diagnose depression early?

ISLAMABAD, (Online) - Depression is a significant mental health disorder. Accurate diagnosis ensures people get the guidance and help they need to manage their depression. Diagnosing a person with depression involves looking at various behavior changes that indicate depression.

A recent studyTrusted Source published in BMC Psychiatry investigated how looking at speech patterns may be useful in identifying people with depression who have not yet received a diagnosis.

The methods studied may help detect early warning signs of depression.

Ensuring an accurate diagnosis of depression

Major Depressive Disorder, also just called depression, is a mental illness that impacts mood and how people act. Symptoms of depression can include feeling empty or hopeless, lack of energy, and loss of pleasure in activities that one used to find enjoyable. When people have depression, they experience persistent symptoms for at least two weeks or more.

To accurately diagnose depressionTrusted Source, doctors will look a someone’s history, ask questions, evaluate symptoms, and work to rule out any underlying physical causes for symptoms.

Dr. Jhilam Biswas, director of the Psychiatry, Law and Society Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, who was not involved in the study, explained to Medical News Today the challenges in diagnosing depression.

“Making a diagnosis of depression requires a full clinical evaluation complete with history taking, background information, a review of organ systems, and a targeted symptom checklist,” she said.

“Because each person has an individual way of presenting with depression, and the illness can look different from person to person, a complete evaluation is important so that symptoms can be treated appropriately.”
— Dr. Jhilam Biswas

One area of interest is the changes in speech patterns among people with depression. Researchers are working to understand these changes and how doctors can best study speech to identify people with mental illnesses.

Speaking to MNT, Dr. Krystina Patton, registered psychotherapist, who was not involved in the study, noted that speech can give clues to many different behaviors.

“Speech patterns can reveal so much about the internal state of the person talking. We automatically and intuitively infer the emotional flavor of what’s being said based on the speaker’s prosody. And it turns out that beyond providing helpful social cues, speech patterns can also be a useful tool in the diagnosis of mental health conditions.”
— Dr. Krystina Patton

Speech patterns’ link to depression

This study specifically looked at depression indicators and speech patterns in a non-clinical sample. The authors note that they wanted “to test whether there would be an association between subtle signs of depression and speech features in a non-clinical population (i.e., in healthy young adults).”

Researchers included 118 young adults in their analysis. The mean age of the participants was about 24 years.

Each participant filled out a questionnaire that measured symptoms of depression. A higher score indicated a higher likelihood of depression.

Participants also completed a particular test called a trail-making test. This test measured participants’ ability to focus, process information, and switch between tasks. Participants that scored above the cut-off for clinically relevant depressive symptoms also took a longer amount of time to complete a portion of the trail-making test.