Summary: According to a study that looked into the phenomenon known as “concept creep,” there has been an expansion of the concepts of “anxiety” and “depression” since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Contrary to expectations, these terms have taken on more serious connotations over the past five decades, according to the study. The increased use of these words in conjunction with illness-related terms like “disorder” and “symptom” is the driving force behind this shift.
The study warns of the potential dangers of over-pathologizing everyday mood states, despite the fact that raising awareness is essential.
A corpus of everyday American English and a study of over 800,000 psychology articles revealed that “anxiety” and “depression” are now associated with more severe emotions than they were in previous decades.
The increasing frequency with which the terms “anxiety” and “depression” are used in the same sentence as words that are related to illnesses suggests that people are beginning to view them as clinical phenomena.
Despite the rise in awareness and comprehension of mental health issues, there is a danger of over-pathologizing everyday mood states, which could result in overdiagnosis and overtreatment.
Source: University of Melbourne Mental health is at the forefront of public consciousness following COVID.
Stories about new treatments, alarming increases in the prevalence of mental health issues, and flaws in the mental health system abound on traditional and social media. As never before, personal accounts of living with mental health issues are being shared.
Numerous positive outcomes are likely to result from this increased focus.
Developing public mindfulness ought to assist with supporting emotional well-being education, decrease disgrace and urge individuals to look for fitting assistance. Additionally, efforts to improve the health system ought to be sparked by the increased awareness of mental health.
In spite of these hopes, some commentators are concerned that greater focus on mental health might come with some drawbacks. Psychiatric classifications, such as the DSM-5, have been criticized for allegedly pathologizing everyday human experiences, resulting in excessive medication and diagnosis.
Some authors even suggest that raising awareness of mental health issues might backfire and accidentally increase the number of mental health issues. Others assert that people’s perceptions of mental health are evolving in ways that could be harmful.
Our examination bunch investigated changes like this as instances of “idea creep,” the authentic inclination for hurt related ideas to extend their implications.
We have demonstrated, for instance, that as the term “trauma” has gained popularity in recent years, its meaning has expanded to include less severe experiences. When it alluded exclusively to hazardous occasions, however in regular language it progressively alludes to practically any difficulty.
Could “anxiety” and “depression,” two of the most prevalent forms of distress associated with mental ill health, undergo the same process of concept creep?
Influential authors American sociologist Professor Allan Horwitz and philosopher Professor Jerome Wakefield argue that the DSM frequently misidentifies adaptive anxiety and everyday sadness as mental disorders, suggesting that this has already taken place in mainstream psychiatry.
The paper has been accepted for publication in PLOS ONE.
Our new study made use of natural language processing techniques that we had previously used to study trauma in order to determine whether “anxiety” and “depression” have slipped or been diluted in this manner.
With the expectation that they would become less emotionally charged, we examined how the meanings of the two words have evolved over the course of the past fifty years in two massive data sets known as corpora.
Abstracts from more than 800,000 psychology articles published between 1970 and 2018 were included in one corpus. Over the same time period, the other had over half a billion words drawn from various everyday American English sources like television shows, fiction, newspapers, and spoken language.
The two corpora permit us to analyze whether the implications of “tension” and “discouragement” have changed in scholarly talk and in the public eye at large.
Each corpus’s instances of “anxiety” and “depression” were identified, and the words immediately preceding and following them were extracted. The concept’s semantic company is symbolized by these collocated words.
These collocates’ historical changes can help explain how the meanings of “anxiety” and “depression” have changed over time.
Using established emotional meaning norms, we assessed the collocates’ emotional severity. We anticipated that the severity would diminish over time, but we discovered the exact opposite.
Words like “anxiety” and “depression” gradually became more emotionally charged in both corpora, indicating that these terms are now perceived as more distressing than in previous decades.
The changing meanings of “anxiety” and “depression” We looked at which of their related words had changed over time to find out why the meanings of “anxiety” and “depression” became stronger rather than weaker, as our concept creep prediction predicted.
Our findings are supported by two trends that emerged.
At first, the terms “anxiety” and “depression” became increasingly similar. In the general corpus, “depression” was not among the top ten colloquialisms for “anxiety” in the 1970s or 1980s; however, by the 2000s and 2010s, it had become the most common.
Second, over the course of the past five decades, the two concepts have become increasingly associated with terms like “disorder” and “symptom” that refer to illnesses. It lets us know that “downturn” and “tension” are progressively perceived as clinical peculiarities.
These two trends, taken together, help to explain why the terms “anxiety” and “depression” are now used more frequently in everyday speech and academic psychology.
“Uneasiness” and “sadness” have come to be viewed as an obsessive couple.
Pathologized as opposed to normalized Our findings, which are based on patterns of word use that were observed in vast data sets for half a century, suggest that anxiety and depression are increasingly being viewed through a clinical lens.
Despite the fact that anxiety and depression can both be temporary and useful mood states of the day, they are increasingly portrayed as disorders.
Instead of being normalized, they have been pathologized.
Does this imply that the terms “anxiety” and “depression” do not have concept creep? Necessarily not.
These terms may now be used to describe less severe phenomena than in the past, and when they do, they are increasingly understood clinically.
As a result, it’s possible that the concepts of anxiety and depression grew, intensified, and became pathologized simultaneously.
The ramifications of that chance might concern.
When anxiety or depression is clinically significant, people should get help. However, if they view normal anxiety or depression as pathological, they may self-diagnose incorrectly and seek unnecessary treatment.
According to research on concept creep, some psychological concepts’ meanings have expanded over the past few decades.
Some terms related to mental health, like “trauma,” have taken on broader meanings and now refer to a wider range of experiences and events.
Due to increasing public awareness and attention, the terms “anxiety” and “depression” may have experienced similar semantic inflation. Critics have argued that “depression” and “anxiety” have expanded to include subclinical experiences of sadness and worry because everyday emotional experiences are becoming increasingly pathologized.
Using two large historical text corpora, one academic and one general, we examined changes in the emotional intensity of words in their vicinity (collocates) to test the possibility that these concepts have expanded to include less severe phenomena (vertical concept creep).
The academic corpus had more than 133 million words from psychology article abstracts published between 1970 and 2018. The general corpus had more than 500 million words from various text sources from the United States for the same time period.