More than 300 million people suffer from depression worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, but many of those people don’t get the treatment they need. Google is trying to change that: this week, the search engine announced that when you Google “clinical depression” or related terms, you’ll have the option to take a medically-validated questionnaire to “check if you’re clinically depressed.”
The feature was announced on August 23 in this blog post written by Mary Giliberti, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an organization Google partnered with to ensure the information being offered is accurate. The anonymous, five-minute long test is called the PHQ-9, and it's currently only available on mobile and only for US-based users. (Our team of editors had difficulty finding the questionnaire, and because it’s the digital age, we tweeted at the National Alliance on Mental Illness for help. They responded that the feature will be fully rolled out in “the next day or so.”)
The PHQ-9 can’t tell you with certainty if you’re clinically depressed, Giliberti cautions, but the results “can help you have a more informed conversation with your doctor,” she wrote in the post.
This is a huge deal: Giliberti wrote that “statistics show that those who have symptoms of depression experience an average of a 6-8 year delay in getting treatment after the onset of symptoms” and only about 50 percent of people suffering from depression get treatment.
Lack of access to mental health services plays a role, but many people don’t seek treatment because of stigma. If finding out your likely level of depression is as easy—and discreet—as a Google search, people may be inclined to learn more about it.
“We believe that awareness of depression can help empower and educate you, enabling quicker access to treatment,” Giliberti wrote.
Google isn’t the first tech company to use their platform for good: Instagram now offers support if posts are reported as concerning, and Facebook has been using artificial intelligence to try and spot potentially suicidal users and offer them tools like support hotline numbers or the option to message a counselor.
But Google’s effort, along with other leaders in the digital industry, signals how mainstream the conversation about mental health has become, something vital in changing the way we talk about—and treat—depression.
Read the full post announcing the feature here.