Several news organizations are reporting that Google is currently beta testing a depression screener for people to take if they are Google’ing ‘depression’ or ‘clinical depression.’ After several attempts in Chrome and Edge browsers, I was unable to find it, but if you look on the right-hand side where it talks about what depression is, what the symptoms are, and treatment options that are effective, it has a non-invasive button to look for it.

The screener itself is the PHQ-9, also known as the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 which you can download here. The screener itself is not a diagnostic tool to verify someone has depression, but simply a conversation starter to help identify possible concerning areas. The questions themselves follow the criteria a therapist or psychiatrist look for in diagnosing disorders, but several other factors, including ruling out better diagnoses, cultural implications, and substance abuse need to be integrated in determining disorders that this screener itself does not do. Further, Google reports it will not be storing these results anywhere as this would bring significant HIPAA concerns into play with your personal health information.

Untreated depression is costing individuals and others billions and too many are losing their lives and loved ones to tragic ends. The awareness this screener could bring is definitely a significant positive.Unfortunately, many of the websites that reported on this development by Google did not mention any of this including CNN, CNBC and Fortune.com failed to mention most of this. Companies like New York Post and Huffington Post did a more thorough job of reporting on this. Surprisingly, Buzzfeed did the best at reporting on this and went a more controversial route to have the reporter who struggles with depression (as in they are receiving treatment for it) take the survey and respond to each question. To read the original blog post by Google on what and why they did this, look here.

Is This A Good Thing?

It should be noted that Google did not make this decision alone as they partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to best display the screener. The question is, is this appropriate to do?

Why it’s not good.
Several problems come about with screeners that are not done in a clinical setting with someone who is trained to tally the results. Some questions could be misread (I consistently have to explain what “Little interest or pleasure in doing things” means) giving an inaccurate number at the end. Others will complete this exam during a single crisis situation and incorrectly label themselves as depressed or maybe worse wait until they are happy but miss a diagnosis of depression. Many people do not answer the question with the frame of mind that the screener is for the last two weeks ONLY as they jump right into the questions. Others may have a more flat affect and be empathic which could include feeling sad more often, but these feelings are not causing problems and would not result in a diagnosis.

See the problem here? We need to be careful with throwing around terms like depression as labels. The results can actually be pretty significant.

Why this is very good.
The fact of the matter is the people who are depressed isolate, are irritable, lack motivation and energy, or more seriously have a higher rate of attempted suicide. Unfortunately, depression symptoms tend to get in the way of people coming in for treatment and find help. The Google survey does not stop at identifying the symptoms but goes so far as to encourage every participant to seek a professional to talk about the results and possibly come up with an effective treatment plan.

Untreated depression is costing individuals and others billions and too many are losing their lives and loved ones to tragic ends. The awareness this screener could bring is definitely a significant positive.

Mary Giliberti, CEO of NAMI stated “We hope that by making this information available on Google, more people will become aware of depression and seek treatment to recover and improve their quality of life.”

Summation? Consult a professional on these details because several publications could lead you astray as many have shown to do with this article. If you or someone you know felt it necessary to seriously take the survey, I’d encourage you to simply go talk with a counselor. If you are not sure where to find one, talk with your insurance company for a referral for who they cover. If that’s not possible, use this services locator.

Published by Jeremy Smith

Jeremy is a Licensed Professional Counselor working with adults and youth. Jeremy has a history of working as a ministry director for Youth for Christ for 8 years and then working as a mental health and substance use adult counselor in Ohio, specifically running an Opioid Residential Treatment Center.

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