Google offers users depression screening

Clinical depression affects 1 in 5 people, but most people don’t receive treatment. Now a popular search engine is doing what it can to change that.

Google has partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, so when users make a depression-related search, a prompt will ask users if they want to take a depression-screening questionnaire.

The hope is to give people more information and help them get quicker access to treatment.

“Initially, I think I was excited,” said Jeff Reiland, a child and family therapist at Gundersen Health System.

“I am thrilled,” said Sarah Johnson, La Crosse Area YMCA’s mental health director. “I’m hoping it means we’re getting better and better at thinking about mental health as simply health, and part of our whole package.”

When users search “depression,” Google offers the option to “check if you’re clinically depressed,” by taking the PHQ-9, a clinically validated screening questionnaire used locally at both Gundersen and Mayo Clinic Health Systems.

“I think of it as a conversation starter,” Reiland said, adding that it’s not a diagnosis. “It’s a measure of that moment in time about how the person is feeling. It may be an indicator that they’re struggling with depression. It’s a great way to become educated about, ‘Oh! That’s what depression is.'”

Beyond that, its visibility on Google can help break down depression’s stigma and the fear people have of seeking help.

“That’s probably the biggest challenge we have,” Reiland said. “So when Google said, ‘Hey, we’re going to put this out there and be a part of this conversation, a leader in this conversation,’ I thought, ‘Good.'”

“I imagine that young adults and teens will stumble upon this,” Johnson said.

Johnson spends a lot of time at the Y’s teen center.

“I think early detection is really important for people to get help, because depression is very, very treatable,” she said.

Johnson thinks the tool can set people on the right path as long as they take the next step.

“If folks can use it as a tool to talk with health care provider to get help, that can be really, really good for them, to get services they need and get back on their feet feeling like themselves again,” she said.

According to Google, this tool should be available on mobile devices by the end of Thursday, and the search engine is looking to expand to desktop computers as well.

If the screening suggests you might be depressed, Reiland said not to panic. At that point, he said it’s worth learning more about and talking to a professional, and depression is treatable.