Now Google searches will nudge you if you’re clinically depressed

Google may be able to help you figure out if you’re in need of professional medical help. Searching for “clinical depression” or “depression” on Google’s mobile platform now in the U.S. won’t just provide you with an onslaught of web pages and information— it will reportedly give you the option to check if you’re going through it yourself by taking a test.

But why? It all boils down to the PHQ-9 questionnaire, which the post says is a “clinically validated screening questionnaire” used to help check amounts of “depressive symptoms.” Note: it also calls it a “private self-assessment.”

Mary Giliberti, J.D., CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), made the announcement yesterday in a blog post on Google’s website. The two groups say they hope that the feedback from the test helps users “have a more informed conversation with your doctor.”

But first, what is the PHQ-9?

Citing evidence, the American Psychological Association reported that both the PHQ-2 and the PHQ-9 are part of the larger “Patient Health Questionnaire” and give psychologists “self-administered” methods for evaluating depression. The PHQ-9 consists of nine points, can be accessed free of charge in English and more than 30 other languages.

That being said, once making the Google search, you’ll see the words “Check if you’re clinically depressed” in a Knowledge Panel telling you more about the condition on the web page. Click, and you’ll be able to take the test.

A 2001 article by the Society of General Internal Medicine found that “in addition to making criteria-based diagnoses of depressive disorders, the PHQ-9 is also a reliable and valid measure of depression severity. These characteristics plus its brevity make the PHQ-9 a useful clinical and research tool.”

So how helpful could this be?

Gilberti highlighted how common clinical depression is in the US in the blog post, writing,  “clinical depression is a very common condition—in fact, approximately one in five Americans experience an episode in their lifetime. However, despite its prevalence, only about 50 percent of people who suffer from depression actually receive treatment.”

She goes on to state that Google and NAMI came together to make people more conscious of it by providing avenues for people who might be going through the condition. Also, that they “hope” by having this data out there, more users will know about it and seek help to have better lives.

While Giliberti says that knowing about depression “can help empower and educate you,” which can lead to faster treatment, but that while it can be beneficial, she emphasized that it shouldn’t be used “as a singular tool for diagnosis.”

Wait, will Google hold onto this medical information?

While it could help some seek out the help they need, this new feature also raises questions on how free you want to be with your medical information. Most of us know that everything on the internet lives a long time. But Google says it won’t keep the information.

“Nothing” will be done with users’ results and they are only meant to aid discussion with your medical professional, Susan Cadrecha, Communications Manager, Search at Google told Ladders.  She said the company won’t be keeping users’ information from the PHQ-9 on file.

“The privacy and security of our users is of the utmost importance. We recognize that this information in sensitive and private, and Google will not store your responses or your result,” she said.

But will you get ads about depression after taking the PHQ-9? Once again, Google says the answer is no.

Cadrecha told Ladders that “given the sensitivity of the subject matter (health), ads are not tailored to your responses to the PHQ-9 screening tool.”

She also clarified that “depression” and “clinical depression” aren’t the only searches that will display the Knowledge Panel on depression.

Cadrecha said there are “actually hundreds of queries” that can, including, “medications for depression,” “how do you know if you have depression” and that you’re able to “search for symptoms like feeling sad and anxious, and you’ll see a variety of conditions that may be relevant. Depression is one of those options.”

She said they “expect this feature to be fully available on mobile on Google by the end of the day.”