Loneliness is a risk factor for depression, but it can also be a symptom. Mental health professionals who treat patients experiencing both must navigate the complex relationship between the two conditions, yet also understand and treat them individually. To shed light on this, a multidisciplinary collaboration between Penn, Purdue, Stanford, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) combined traditional psychological assessments with linguistic methods and machine-learning analysis of Facebook posts.
In the Nature journal npj Mental Health Research, the research team co-led by Penn computer scientist Sharath Guntuku and psychologist Tingting Liu reports that the language associated with depression refers primarily to emotions, whereas the language of loneliness refers more to cognition. The two also share a common thread: frequent use of language referring to sickness, pain, and negative emotions.