New York – We all know that language is important. It’s how we share our stories, our needs, and our desires with people. We often forget the importance that language plays with regards to our own and others’ mental health. The words that we choose to use, even if they are synonyms of others, may reflect a bias, negativity or something else: To ourselves and to each other.

This concept has not been lost on some companies. Last year, Samsung created an initiative called Predict to Prevent initiative. Based in Bangkok, the company created the initiative in an effort to help people find the right words to use when texting someone with depression. Utilizing predictive text, the keyboard can reflect on the language used and change it to be better equipped to send to someone suffering with depression. The concept came from the idea that conversation can be the “tipping point” for people with depression. And while people may not know which of their friends or loved ones are suffering, this avoids any unintended consequences of saying things like “When will you be better?” by changing that language to “How are you feeling?” While text messaging is one of the highest methods of communication today (especially with younger audiences), it’s impersonal versus a phone call or meeting in person and things can be misinterpreted. This initiative is admirable and innovative, but others are also beginning to bring the language and mental health language together to the mainstream.

Clinical Psychological Science recently published a study to understand the “exact” relationship of language and depression. Using new technology that incorporates computerized text analysis, linguists (and potentially brands) can process large volumes of data in a short amount of time. These accuracies can identify characteristics of language or the prevalence of such things like types of words, sentence length and grammatical patterns. For individuals suffering from depression, the study recognized that they tend to use more first (singular) person pronouns versus second or third person ones. In another instance, studying mental health forums, they notices, for instance, that those with suicidal thoughts were 80% more likely to use absolutist words like “always” or “nothing,” often seeing the world without a middle ground. This study could be a crucial factor when considering how we speak to individuals suffering with mental health issues. And, as we consider new forms of engagement with different patient populations, it’s important to consider how mental health plays a part in the outcomes of the health challenges they currently face. It’s an emerging opportunity that may have significant benefits for the people healthcare companies are hoping to help.

How can we consider language and depression?

Overall, we have immense opportunities to consider how language plays a part in mental health. These opportunities can be focused on by leaders in the health industry through various initiatives. Here are a few that to consider:

  • With an understanding of how co-morbidities and chronic disease factor into mental health, we can consider how language might come into play as more companies promote mental health focused digital therapeutics to their patient population.
  • We are seeing a rise in companies utilizing motivational behavior in their communications. How the language plays out could be incredibly important to someone who suffers from stress, anxiety, and depression. Considering the nuances of motivation language and even verbal branding to see where it can make an impact may make a big difference.
  • With regards to doctor and patient communication, educating physicians on the mental health factors of their patients (which many HCPs are not trained on) could play a part in how the doctor communicates. Furthermore, it could influence tools and resources found online and in-office. Patients report increased satisfaction in interactions where doctors were trained on communication skills with their patients with mental health issues.
  • When we think about doctors, we often forget how mental health plays a part in their lives. Many doctors are overworked, feel helpless, overwhelmed with information, and yet, still wish to do right by their patients. How brands, reps and others communicate with these HCPs with consideration to their mental health is something that has not been explored. Perhaps there is opportunity to engage these doctors in a way that recognizes their ongoing burdens.

About the Author:

A creative director by trade, Cheena has worked with some of the world’s biggest brands, startups and agencies. Specializing in using design thinking, technology and strategy to build out creative solutions, she adds her expertise to the Syneos Health Communications team as Director of Innovation. During her career, she has been at the cutting edge of the industry with experience in augmented reality, social listening, media theory and user experience. With over 13 years of experience, much of her focus has revolved around solving communication challenges and creating brand engagement in a culturally relevant way. She also has been an instructor at Miami Ad School NY for over 6 years, mentoring new creatives on developing integrated campaigns, understanding media, interactive concepting, and working with account planning teams.