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ARE CONSUMERS OF INTERNET HEALTH INFORMATION “CYBERCHONDRIACS”? CHARACTERISTICS OF 24,965 USERS OF A DEPRESSION SCREENING SITE

Authors


Correspondence to: Yan Leykin, University of California, San Francisco, 3333 California St., Suite 465, San Francisco, CA 94143-0848. E-mail: yan.leykin@ucsf.edu

Abstract

Background

The number of individuals looking for health information on the Internet continues to expand. The purpose of this study was to understand the prevalence of major depression among English-speaking individuals worldwide looking for information on depression online.

Methods

An automated online Mood Screener website was created and advertised via Google AdWords, for 1 year. Participants (N = 24,965) completed a depression screening measure and received feedback based on their results. Participants were then invited to participate in a longitudinal mood screening study.

Results

Of the 24,965 who completed the screening, 66.6% screened positive for current major depression, 44.4% indicated current suicidality, and 7.8% reported a recent (past 2 weeks) suicide attempt. Of those consenting to participate in the longitudinal study (n = 1,327 from 86 countries), 77.4% screened positive for past depression, 64.6% reported past suicidality, and 17.5% past suicide attempt. Yet, only 25% of those screening positive for current depression, and only 37.2% of those reporting a recent suicide attempt are in treatment.

Conclusion

Many of the consumers of Internet health information may genuinely need treatment and are not “cyberchondriacs.” Online screening, treatment, and prevention efforts may have the potential to serve many currently untreated clinically depressed and suicidal individuals.

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