Concept Creep: How Our Concepts of Anxiety and Depression Are Changing

Increased mental health awareness following the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the broadening of the concepts of “anxiety” and “depression,” as suggested by a study exploring “concept creep.” Surprisingly, these terms have acquired more severe connotations over the past five decades, contrary to expectations of diminished emotional intensity. This shift is driven by their increased association with each other and with illness-related terms like “disorder” and “symptom.”

While it is important to raise awareness, the study cautions against the potential risks of over-pathologizing everyday mood states.

Key Facts:

– The study, which examined over 800,000 psychology articles and a corpus of everyday American English, reveals that “anxiety” and “depression” are now linked with more intense emotions compared to previous decades.
– These terms increasingly co-occur and are associated with illness-related words, indicating a growing perception of them as clinical phenomena.
– Although understanding and awareness of mental health issues have expanded, there is a potential danger of over-diagnosis and over-treatment by over-pathologizing everyday mood states.

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