How Google is trying to help users struggling with depression

Posted by
Moya Crockett
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites

Google is taking steps to help users access the mental health support they need.

People who search for “depression” on Google will soon be directed to a questionnaire designed to “check if you’re clinically depressed”, the BBC reports.

The questionnaire has been devised by the US National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) with the goal of encouraging people to seek professional mental health support more quickly.

In a statement, NAMI said that the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) is not intended to “act as a singular tool for diagnosis” and shouldn’t be seen as a substitute for expert advice.

“By tapping ‘Check if you’re clinically depressed,’ you can take this private self-assessment to help determine your level of depression and the need for an in-person evaluation,” the organisation explained.

“The results of the PHQ-9 can help you have a more informed conversation with your doctor.”

Nine questions will be included in the questionnaire, including how often you feel you have “little interest or pleasure in doing things” or “trouble concentrating on things, such as reading the newspaper or watching television”.

Google product manager Vidushi Tekriwal told the Financial Times that the search engine will not store answers from users who complete the PHQ-9, and that advertising will not be targeted to them because of it.

Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions in the world, affecting almost 20% of people in the UK aged 16 and over, according to the Mental Health Foundation. However, more than 40% of people experiencing depression do not access treatment.

In the US, where the PHQ-9 will be rolled out initially, the statistics are similar: around one in five Americans experience an episode of clinical depression in their lifetime, per NAMI, but only around half of those with depression receive treatment.

Google isn’t the first tech company to try and help its users identify and tackle mental health issues. In October 2016, Instagram introduced a feature allowing users to flag if they were worried about another person’s mental health based on their posts.

Instagram would then send that person a message of support, along with a list of useful helplines and other ways of seeking help.

It is not yet known whether the PHQ-9 or something like it will be launched on Google in the UK, but we think it seems like a sensible idea. Professional help is often the only way to get on top of a serious mental health issue – and we’re in favour of anything that steers people towards getting the support they need.

Images: iStock