Google has just come out with a mental health tool for those who query “depression” on its site. The Patient Health Questionnaire 9 (PHQ-9) is a series of nine questions that help assess depression symptoms. Doctors use it when screening for depression and use the results in conjunction with additional history from the patient to make (or not make) a diagnosis of Major Depression. Now anyone can access this same questionnaire on Google but is preemptively “encouraged to talk to a care provider or doctor about what your score may mean for your overall health.” A link to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also provided.
Depression, recently reported to be the world’s most widespread illness, has far-reaching implications when left untreated: from strain on personal relationships to disability and worsening of chronic conditions to an economic cost to society. As an internist, I saw many patients who were never diagnosed but wondered if they had depression. Some sought help even when their spouses or parents didn’t “believe” in depression and told them to “think positive” or “get over it.” I am thankful for those in the public sphere who bravely share their mental health struggles and help remove the stigma of mental health issues. And I applaud Google for designing a way to bring additional awareness to its users.
Google’s PHQ-9 feature is just a first step, however. Those who search the term “depression” likely represent a population who suspect or have been told they might have this diagnosis. But bringing awareness to the completely unaware is where the greatest impact can be made. I can’t count the number of times that patients have said – after diagnosis and when their depression is better controlled – that in retrospect, they likely had depression for many years and just didn’t realize it. With platforms like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram plus advancements in AI, we just might see that awareness occur sooner.