Google and the U.S. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) announced on Wednesday they would roll out a new testing tool on search results for ‘depression’ and ‘clinical depression’ to help people in the country assess if they might be suffering from it.
Users asking Google about the disorder will get, in addition to common definitions and summaries of symptoms, a sort of screening test signaled by a tab that invites you to ‘Check if you’re clinically depressed.’ This instrument, the PHQ-9 questionnaire, is approved by the NAMI.
Depression is a serious medical issue and it should be treated as such, which is the ulterior reason behind partnerships like these. The preemptive test is not meant to replace seeking actual help, and its purpose is precisely to provide timely assistance for those in need.
Only potentially depressed mobile users will see the test
As part of Google and NAMI’s efforts to raise awareness about depression and help people who might be suffering from it, the program that introduces the PHQ-9 to search results will roll out first in mobile.
This means that only people browsing from their tablets and phones will get access to the early screening system; a tool that could certainly benefit the entire population regardless of their preferred online browsing methods.
The joint press release made no emphasis on this aspect, but it seems particularly significant to single out a portion of the population who might be looking for help at work or at home just because their search query was entered from a laptop or desktop computer.
— NAMI (@NAMICommunicate) August 24, 2017
Some experts think the PHQ-9 isn’t ideal
Mental health professionals speaking to the BBC and The Financial Times have pointed out the fact that the PHQ-9 test is not the most ideal tool that Google could have rolled out if it truly wanted to make a difference.
The PHQ-9, which stands for Patient Health Questionnaire 9, consists of a set of nine questions designed to shed light on a potential depression patient’s diagnosis. However, it must not be taken as a universal self-diagnosis tool, for it is merely an instrument to introduce the notions of the disorder.
People can easily get the same and even more in-depth information by just skipping the tab and going to the other search results, which might instead show him treatment facilities, contact numbers, and other preemptive methods.
Specialists suggest some sort of direct help line might have been more useful; something along the lines of a virtual hotline or chat service for the unknowingly depressed. Automatically displaying local mental health centers based on the user’s location would have also been better, they argue.