Google partners with VA, National Alliance on Mental Illness to offer PTSD screening

By Dave Muoio
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When mobile users perform a Google search for PTSD or a related query on their mobile device, the search engine will now automatically offer them resources and a validated screening questionnaire for the condition. 

The effort — a partnership between Google, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD — looks to increase the number of people with PTSD who seek help for their condition by conveniently surfacing an online version of the PC-PTSD-5 screening tool.

“To help people understand PTSD, we’ve collaborated with Google to provide simple, direct access to information that may help those who are suffering,” Paula Schnurr, executive director of the National Center for PTSD, and Teri Brister, director of information and support for NAMI, wrote in a recent Google blog post.

Currently, only about half of the estimated 14 million US adults who experience PTSD yearly will seek professional help for the condition, they wrote.

Following a mobile Google search for PTSD or related terms, the search engine will surface a “Knowledge Panel” that provides an overview of the condition consisting of facts and treatment information. The panel also includes an entry titled “check if you may have PTSD,” which directs users to the PC-PTSD-5 questionnaire. The anonymous tests assigns users a score that indicates the likelihood of PTSD, contextualizes the results, and offers suggestions on potential symptoms regardless of a high or low score. These information from the questionnaire can be a “crucial step” toward proper care, Schnurr and Brister wrote.

“You can answer a private questionnaire to assess your likelihood of having PTSD and have a more informed conversation with your doctor,” Schnurr and Brister wrote. “Getting an in-person assessment is essential to a diagnosis of PTSD, and this commonly- used screening tool gives you important information you can bring to your appointment.”

This move comes just months after another similar partnership between the search giant and NAMI that directed mobile users searching for information on clinical depression toward the PHQ-9 validated screening tool. Similar to the PTSD screen, this anonymous questionnaire assigns users a numerical score, guidance, and a direct link to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the case of suspected depression.

“Clinical depression is a treatable condition which can impact many aspects of  a person's life. The PHQ-9 can be the first step to getting a proper diagnosis,” Mary Giliberti, CEO of NAMI, wrote in a Google blog post in August. “Statistics show that those who have symptoms of depression experience an average of a 6 to 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.” 

Both the PC-PTSD-5 and PHQ-9 are intended to build awareness and improve linkage to care, but should not replace diagnosis from a professional.

Google isn’t the only major web player looking to incorporate mental health care into its services. Just last week, Facebook announced that it would be ramping up AI-powered efforts to identify social media posts including suicide threats or other high-risk suicidal language. According to a blog post by Guy Rosen, Facebook’s VP of Product Management, the company’s Community Relations team reviews each of these flagged posts and, if warranted, immediately contacts local first responders to prevent self-injury or suicide.