Recent suicides of prominent musicians like Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington put the dangers of depression in the spotlight. At the same time, Google is usually the first place people turn to if they want to find out whether they have symptoms of a certain illness. Aware of that fact, the company decided to partner with the US National Alliance on Mental illness (NAMI) and has prepared a questionnaire that is aimed to help people determine whether they have symptoms of Clinical Depression and to seek help if necessary. The questionnaire that bears the name PHQ-9 is anonymous and has been clinically validated.

Depression is a silent killer

People often think that they are simply having a bad day, but it can turn out to be something much more serious. In case of depression, a form of mental illness, it has been determined that one of five people in the US suffer from episodes of clinical depression. More than 50 percent of people who suffer from it never seek professional help, while others do so only when the illness gets into a well-developed stage, sometimes as long as eight years!

Recently, Google has become quite active in the field of healthcare. In presenting its online tool prepared in cooperation with NAMI, the company aims to encourage more possibly depressed people to seek professional help.

Now, anybody in the US searching for the term "clinical depression" will be offered the possibility to take a test that would assist in determining the level of the depression symptoms.

The questionnaire Google will be using is a reformulated version of PHQ-9, a test already in clinical use. Mary Gilberti, NAMI's CEO, who said that this test is a "clinically validated screening questionnaire which can help identify levels of depressive symptoms." But, this questionnaire is not supposed to be the only tool used to determine whether somebody is depressed or not and it should be used to motivate people to seek professional medical help.

Questionnaire's limits

Mental health experts have met the Google's action with mixed feelings. Dr. Michael Thase, a professor of psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania is of the opinion that while there might be some false results to the test, Google's initiative represents a good idea as it can represent a simple and reliable way to screen for depression.

Dr. David Hellerstein, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, had similar mixed feelings about the possibility of the test turning out false results, but also thought that the questionnaire could have more positive impact than a negative one.

Another question that arises in a search for answers to sensitive questions is the level of privacy. While the results are supposed to be completely private, Google will still be tracking them. At the moment, Google has not made it public what it will do with such tracked results besides keeping them in its archives.