Diagnosing Mental Illness with Google

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In an effort to encourage more patients to seek mental health treatment sooner, Google announced that it has teamed up with National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), an advocacy group, to create a simple tool for users to assess if they may be depressed.

This is how it works:

  1. When you type a depression-related search term into Google, a box will pop up above the results, asking “Are you depressed?”
  2. If you click “yes,” you’ll be linked to the PHQ-9, a validated questionnaire that clinicians may use to help diagnose depression. It asks the user to rate whether they have symptoms like: “Trouble concentrating on things, such as reading the newspaper or watching television,” “Feeling bad about yourself — or that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down?” “Moving or speaking so slowly that other people could have noticed?” or “So fidgety or restless that you have been moving a lot more than usual.”

Clinical depression is a treatable condition which can impact many aspects of a person's life. The PHQ-9 can be the first step to getting a proper diagnosis. Doctors use it in conjunction with physical exams to rule out other causes for patients’ symptoms, like a thyroid problem.

Clinical depression is also a very common condition. Approximately one in five Americans experiences an episode in their lifetime. Despite its prevalence, only about 50 percent of people who suffer from depression actually receive treatment.

The hope is that people will fill out the questionnaire and, depending on the results, have more information to share with their doctors, or perhaps seek treatment where they would have otherwise been too hesitant.

If you or someone you know is experiencing clinical depression, please contact a healthcare provider.

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