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    OK Google, Am I Depressed? Online Test May Cause Greater Harm, Experts Warn

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    Feeling depressed but not entirely sure - then why not ask Google? Millions of people turn to it every single minute of the day to solve all sorts of questions and trivia - even their mental health state.

    Anyone who is unsure about their thoughts or feelings can now simply go online, answer a series of questions and quickly discover if they are depressed or not.

    The test called The Patient Health Questionnaire-9 covers a range of subjects including suicidal thoughts, appetite and sleep patterns before assessing them.

    Google teamed up with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to offer the service, although it quickly stresses that the online depression test should not replace expert diagnosis.

    The screening test has also split the medical world with some critics arguing that it may do more harm than good, while others insist it could raise awareness to improve identification and treatment.

    Ken Duckworth, an American-based clinical psychiatrist, believes it is a valuable tool, although he stressed it was not intended to replace clinical screening by a mental health professional.

    Writing in the British Medical Journal, he explained patients previously had to see a doctor to learn their blood pressure and blood sugar levels before measurement tools became available to be used at home.

    "Contrast this with suicide, which, in America, is increasing in almost all population groups," the medic said. "In the UK, suicide rates among women are the highest in a decade. While many people know what 120/80mm Hg means, few know their PHQ-9 score. 

    "A common language for measuring depression could advance conversations among the public and with professionals. PHQ-9 is a test validated for use in primary care to monitor the severity of depression and response to treatment."

    Mr. Duckworth revealed The US Preventative Services Task Force did not consider screening tests available on Google a risky idea.

    "It is intended as a widespread education to prompt informed conversation with clinical professionals and to suggest potentially helpful resources," he said.

    "This is balanced against existing potential harms, currently googling 'depression tests' yields many different surveys, not all of which are clinically validated or beneficial."

    The US psychiatrist added no industry money was involved in the service, saying it was 'unlikely' to lead to overtreatment as the PHQ-9 result alone required a formal diagnosis by a professional.

    Simon Gilbody, a psychology professor at the University of York, remains unconvinced. He said: "My first concern is that this a screening programme, and Google's initiative bypasses the usual checks and balances provided by bodies such as the UK National Screening Committee.

    "Screening for depression is controversial, and we should remember Muir Gray's dictum that 'all screening programmes do harm some do good as well.

    "The case for screening for depression falls down on several key criteria. False positive rates are high, and people with a positive result may have a range of disorders other than depression (including post-traumatic stress disorder, personality difficulties, and bipolar disorder)."

    Screening programs, the professor warned, should be implemented only when there are adequate resources in place to meet the demand they generate.

    Often treatment resources for depression are inadequate in most health systems, he admitted, and was likely to add to the upward trend in antidepressant prescriptions.


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    depression, test, mental health, psychology, suicide, health, Google
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