News & Views

Google / National Alliance on Mental Illness

by Contagious I/O
This story originally appeared on Contagious I/O, our intelligence tool featuring the most creative and effective ideas in marketing from around the world



Google has been asking its users if they feel lucky for years, but now it wants to help those who may be feeling depressed.

The search engine has partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to create a function that helps diagnose depression.

US users who search for the phrase ‘clinical depression’ on Google on a mobile device are shown a Knowledge Panel (a box that contains images and basic information) about the illness, and on 24 August that panel also directed them towards a clinically validated screening questionnaire (PHQ-9), which helps determine a respondent’s likely level of depression.

Mary Giliberti, the CEO of NAMI, said in a Google blog post: ‘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. We believe that awareness of depression can help empower and educate you, enabling quicker access to treatment. And while this tool can help, it’s important to note that PHQ-9 is not meant to act as a singular tool for diagnosis.’


Contagious Insight /

Online self diagnosis / According to NAMI, only 50% of people who suffer from depression receive treatment. Part of that may be the stigma of mental illness, but part of it may be that many people just don’t think to seek help for psychiatric problems as readily as physical ailments. Google hosting a clinically-validated questionnaire makes the first step of diagnosis more accessible.

Online self-diagnosis is already an established behaviour. A Guardian article cites a 2013 Pew study, which states that 72% of Americans search their symptoms online. Indeed, people hunting for health information account for 1% of all of Google’s searches, according to the search engine.

Targeting / The mechanism to get the questionnaire in front of the right people at the right time is similar to the one that helped Google pull in $79.4 billion of advertising revenue in 2016 – AdWords. We’ve seen brands take search-linked targeting to more creative places in the past. One example was Maserati, which targeted people who searched for information about test-driving rival car models and then asked them if they’d like to drive one of its own cars to the showroom.

In another example, Macy’s partnered with Google and linked searches for certain products to its inventory, letting people know what models they carried and in what sizes, and how to get to their nearest Macy’s store.