While suicide attempts and deaths increase, research and assessment methods have stagnated in terms of increasing predictive power. Lexical analysis has been a useful method in descriptive suicide research, but may have utility for assessment and prediction.
The present study used lexical analysis to examine language differences across a spectrum of psychological distress, with death by suicide as the most extreme indicator.
Suicide writings were collected for 38 persons who died by suicide in two southern U.S. cities. Blog writings were collected from the “Depression” and “Suicide” categories of an online mental health discussion community and from food blogging communities (n = 38 each). Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count was used to calculate proportions of words that fell into lexical categories indicative of distress.
One-way ANOVA revealed significant differences in first-person singular pronouns and words related to positive emotions, negative emotions, religion, and death. Suicide notes were found to use less frequent lexical markers of distress than depression and suicide ideation blogs, and more frequent positive emotion language than all comparison groups.
The present findings suggest that deciding to take one’s life may be associated with a decrease in distress, and possibly an increase in positive emotion, when compared to those experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts.