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Twitter is Showing That People Are Anxious and Depressed

On May 31, the most commonly used words on English language Twitter included “terrorist,” “violence” and “racist.” This was two days after George Floyd was killed, and the start of the protests that would last all summer.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Hedonometer’s sadness readings have set multiple records. This year, “there was a full month — and we never see this — there was a full month of days that the Hedonometer was reading sadder than the Boston Marathon day,” Dr. Danforth said. “Our collective attention is very ephemeral. So it was really remarkable then that the instrument, for the first time, showed this sustained, depressed mood, and then it got even worse, when the protests started.”

James Pennebaker, an intellectual founder of online language analysis and a social psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, became interested in what our choice of words reveals about ourselves — our moods, our characters — exactly at the moment when the internet was first supplying such an enormous stockpile of text to draw from and consider.

“These digital traces are markers that we’re not aware of, but they leave marks that tell us the degree to which you are avoiding things, the degree to which you are connected to people,” said Dr. Pennebaker, the author of “The Secret Life of Pronouns,” among other books. “They are telling us how you are paying attention to the world.”

But, Dr. Pennebaker said, one of the challenges of this line of research is that language itself is always evolving — and algorithms are notoriously bad at discerning context.

Take, for example, cursing. “Swear words have changed in the last 10 years,” he said, noting that now, far from necessarily being an expression of anger, cursing can be either utterly casual, or even positive, used to emphasize a point or express an enthusiasm. He is updating his electronic dictionaries accordingly.

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Depressed teens may struggle in school

By about age 16, teens diagnosed with depression have substantially lower educational attainment, a new British study finds.

Targeted educational support might be of particular benefit to teens from poor backgrounds and boys, but all children with depression can benefit from such help, the study authors suggested.

For the study, the researchers used British health and education records to identify nearly 1,500 kids under 18 years of age with depression. Typically, their depression was diagnosed around age 15. Their educational attainment was compared with a group of young people who were not depressed.

Among students with a diagnosis of depression, 83% reached expected educational attainment at ages 6 to 7, but only 45% hit more advanced thresholds in English and math by age 15 to 16. Researchers said that’s much lower than the 53% who met the threshold locally and nationwide.

“Previous research has found that, in general, depression in childhood is linked to lower school performance,” said researcher Alice Wickersham, a doctoral student at NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre of King’s College London.

But young people who developed depression in secondary school typically showed a performance decline on the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams. The exams — taken by most pupils at about age 15 to 16 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland — dovetailed with the time of diagnosis for many young people.

The pattern appeared to be consistent across different genders, ethnicities and economic groups, Wickersham said in a research center news release.

“While it’s important to emphasize that this won’t be the case for all teenagers with depression, it does mean that many may find themselves at a disadvantage for this pivotal educational milestone,” Wickersham said.

“It highlights the need to pay close attention to teenagers who are showing early signs of depression. For example, by offering them extra educational support in the lead up to their GCSEs, and working with them to develop a plan for completing their compulsory education,” she added.

Researcher Dr. Johnny Downs, senior lecturer in child and adolescent psychiatry at King’s College London, said the findings have two key policy implications.

“It demonstrates just how powerful depression can be in reducing young people’s chances at fulfilling their potential, and provides a strong justification for how mental health and educational services need to work to detect and support young people prior to critical academic milestones,” he said.

The findings were published online Oct. 8 in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

More information

For more about teens and depression, head to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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