The relationship between text message sentiment and self-reported depression

Tony Liu*, Jonah Meyerhoff, Johannes C. Eichstaedt, Chris J. Karr, Susan M. Kaiser, Konrad P. Kording, David C. Mohr, Lyle H. Ungar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Background: Personal sensing has shown promise for detecting behavioral correlates of depression, but there is little work examining personal sensing of cognitive and affective states. Digital language, particularly through personal text messages, is one source that can measure these markers. Methods: We correlated privacy-preserving sentiment analysis of text messages with self-reported depression symptom severity. We enrolled 219 U.S. adults in a 16 week longitudinal observational study. Participants installed a personal sensing app on their phones, which administered self-report PHQ-8 assessments of their depression severity, collected phone sensor data, and computed anonymized language sentiment scores from their text messages. We also trained machine learning models for predicting end-of-study self-reported depression status using on blocks of phone sensor and text features. Results: In correlation analyses, we find that degrees of depression, emotional, and personal pronoun language categories correlate most strongly with self-reported depression, validating prior literature. Our classification models which predict binary depression status achieve a leave-one-out AUC of 0.72 when only considering text features and 0.76 when combining text with other networked smartphone sensors. Limitations: Participants were recruited from a panel that over-represented women, caucasians, and individuals with self-reported depression at baseline. As language use differs across demographic factors, generalizability beyond this population may be limited. The study period also coincided with the initial COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, which may have affected smartphone sensor data quality. Conclusions: Effective depression prediction through text message sentiment, especially when combined with other personal sensors, could enable comprehensive mental health monitoring and intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7-14
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
StatePublished - Apr 1 2022


  • Depression
  • Digital phenotyping
  • Language sentiment analysis
  • Machine learning
  • Personal sensing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology


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