As part of an initiative which sees the tech giant partnered with the USA’s National Alliance on Mental Illness, Google mobile searches for the terms “depression” and “clinical depression” will now present US users with the option to take a short, self-administered depression test. According to the Alliance, whilst one in five Americans are likely to experience depression within their lifetimes, only 50% of sufferers currently receive treatment.
The addition of a Patient Health Questionnaire – the PHQ-9, specifically – to Google’s ‘Knowledge Panel’ section aims to raise visibility and awareness for mental health issues, and to enable “a more informed conversation with your doctor”.
it is undoubtedly a positive contribution to the ongoing fight against mental illness.
According to the UK’s Mental Health Foundation, it is estimated that one in six people in the UK will have experienced a mental health problem in any given week. Meanwhile, 4 to 10% of the population will experience depression in their lifetime. It is the world’s predominant mental health problem – and it is becoming increasingly prevalent.
In 2014, 19.7% of UK residents over the age of 16 showed symptoms of anxiety and depression, a figure which increased by 1.5% from 2013; similar statistical increases can be seen across the broad spectrum of mental health. Writing in Psychology Today in 2015, San Diego State University’s Dr Jean M. Twenge notes that mental health issues saw their most drastic and consistent increase between the 1930s and 90s; since the 90s, various specific criteria have begun to show less consistent trends, but at the very least “most measures of mental health” have not improved, with the majority of conditions on the rise.
Furthermore, extensive studies in recent years (such as those discussed in the Mental Health Foundation’s 2016 Fundamental Facts) have evidenced a relationship between rates of mental health problems and “social determinants”, resulting from intersectional factors including (but not limited to) gender, ethnicity, disability, and “lesser access to protective resources”.
Whilst genetic and biological factors remain key influences on the presentation of mental illness, it is also clearly “distributed according to a gradient of economic disadvantage across society”. Individuals in the UK’s lowest 20% income bracket can be seen to be two to three times more likely to develop mental health problems; admittedly, it can be difficult to reliably determine the direction of the relationship between the two socioeconomic advantage and mental health problems, given that living with mental illness can have a negative effect on employment and income.
In effect, the availability of tests like the PQH-9 should be a valuable aid to any and all who are concerned about their mental health.
The PHQ-9 test – which boasts nine short questions, and can be completed in under a minute – was developed with the intention to aid screening for depression. Although by no means a diagnosis, it serves to aid and inform through a simple scoring system of 0 to 27. Scores of 5-10 are mild risk, 10-15 are moderate, 15-20 moderately severe, whilst 20-27 indicates severe risk of depression.
Being such a short questionnaire, it is undeniable that the PHQ-9 is far from a conclusive measure of depression. A 2012 study found the PHQ-9 to have a 61% sensitivity and 94% specificity in adult subjects. The PHQ-2 – a far shorter test comprising the first two questions from the PHQ-9, regarding recent experiences of depressed mood and anhedonia – presented better as a primary screening, with 97% sensitivity and 67% specificity.
This led the study to determine that the PHQ-2 should be administered first, with the PHQ-9 then being taken in event of positive results. A positive PHQ-9 result should then instigate full professional evaluation, in order to construct a true diagnosis.
Whilst Google’s promotion of PHQ-9 is far from a silver bullet where depression is concerned, it is undoubtedly a positive contribution to the ongoing fight against mental illness. Having perhaps stumbled across the PHQ-9 with a little help from their friendly neighbourhood search engine, many of those uncertain about their mental health may now feel more confident about seeking professional medical help.
This is particularly important given the aforementioned increasing rate of mental health issues worldwide. In effect, the availability of tests like the PQH-9 (and the increased awareness of their existence) should be a valuable aid to any and all who are concerned about their mental health.
If you want to read more of our articles concerning mental health try this one where Carmen Paddock looked into the relationship between music and mental health!!