Google Creates Controversial Online Clinical Depression Test

Why are members of the public highly concerned about Google's new controversial online depression test?

Google Creates Controversial Online Clinical Depression Test
Google Creates Controversial Online Clinical Depression Test

Google has teamed up with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to provide users with a clinical depression quiz; however, some netizens find the move to be extremely controversial


On the surface, Google’s announcement to team up with NAMI to provide a free online depression quiz sounds virtuous, rather than controversial. However, some internet users are suspicious of the move. With thousands of online depression tests available, why is Google interested in promoting this one in particular?

According to Google blogs, when you type “depression” or “clinical depression” into the Google search bar, Google will immediately offer a “Knowledge Panel.” This suggests to the user that they should take a quiz to determine if they have depression. Currently, the service is limited to only the US, and only via smartphone.

Google and NAMI decided to provide what is called the PHQ-9 questionnaire to users. Allegedly professionals believe this quiz is legitimate and clinically approved. However, the giant pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc created and copyrighted the PHQ-9 during the 1990s. And it is not without its limitations. In fact, the test results are worthless without a professional follow-up diagnosis.


Doctor Google

Many netizens already joke about those who use “Doctor Google” to self-diagnose symptoms using the search engine. Individuals can type in symptoms for a common hangover, and come away from their visit to the internet thinking they have a terminal illness. Indeed, nothing beats talking to a professional, and self-diagnosis is incredibly foolish.

According to MedCity News, the quiz, which contains nine questions about things like feelings, tiredness, suicidal thoughts and energy levels, informs the user whether or not they should seek further medical attention. And it is at this point that many users begin to see red flags of concern.



Is Google data mining private and sensitive information?

Some users are concerned that Google will use the confidential information gained from this quiz, against them. Indeed, insurance companies and many employers have primitive attitudes to mental healthMental health is stigmatized, and people don’t want to lose their ability to purchase insurance. They also don’t want to their boss to fire them over such a diagnosis.

Google responded to these suspicions by stating it is using the tool to reach out to potentially vulnerable users. They also see it as an opportunity to educate the public about depression. The tech giant claims that all submitted information is private. According to the CEO of NAMI, Mary Giliberti, only 50% of people who suffer from clinical depression actually seek help. She hopes that Google’s provision of the PHQ-9 will encourage them to do that.


Just another online depression quiz?

Nevertheless, regular Google searches on the topic brought up many professional and trusted organizations. They already do the things that Giliberti is describing. So why is this quiz any better or different? Google claims that internet users trust search results that are the closest to the top of the list. By putting the PHQ-9 at the head of the list, they allege that users will learn the most helpful direction to take.

Ultimately, Google claims that if they wanted to mine information about user’s mental health status, they would be able to do that in multiple other ways. Nevertheless, this still doesn’t divert many netizens from an even greater controversy. That being the involvement of Big Pharma.


Big Pharma strikes again

Hilariously, John Oliver explained the controversy over Big Pharma’s influence over the medical industry on his TV show Last Week Tonight, in 2015. His exposé revealed how pharmaceutical companies spend more money on marketing products to doctors than they do on actually researching those products! The priority of Big Pharma is making money. Sadly, they are less concerned about actually healing the sick.

And of course, it turns out, that many insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies are large financiers of NAMI. This includes Pfizer, who owns the PHQ-9 test. Does this mean that there are financial incentives for this collaboration between NAMI and Google? When the Google test directs a potentially clinically depressed individual to seek professional help, will that help entail being prescribed drugs that will line the pockets of Big Pharma?

For decades now, the media has been exposing how doctors overdiagnose anti-depressants. Additionally, many studies prove that in around 75% of cases anti-depressants are no more effective than a placebo. Finally, it is clearly no wonder that many people have legitimate reasons to view Google’s move to provide this online depression test as controversial. And indeed, even suspicious.


References: NAMI, MedCity News, The Guardian, New Scientist