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WebMD’s Depression Test Has Issues

Sometimes you have to wonder, “What were they thinking?”

Jim Edwards, writing for bnet, notes how when he took the WebMD depression test (here), it always told him he might be at risk for depression. Even if you answered all 10 questions negatively, it still noted that “You may be risk for major depression”:

To be fair to WebMD and Lilly, the test is clearly marked as “funded by Lilly.” And there’s a Cymbalta ad sitting on the same page. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that it is rigged. Even if you answer “no” to all of the 10 questions (which are all framed so that the “yes” answer indicates depressed behavior) you still get this response:

Lower Risk: You may be at risk for major depression.

I just took the test now to confirm this result and did not get that same descriptive narrative in my results. It had been removed and all I got was the rest of it, “Lower risk.” The fact is, if you answered all 10 questions “No,” you are — at that moment — at pretty much zero risk for depression (at that moment). Could you get it in the future? Sure. You could also get a cold or the flu in the future too, but that doesn’t mean you are, today, at “lower risk” for it. Ridiculous.

Edwards suggests this may be because the quiz itself is sponsored by an antidepressant pharmaceutical company. That may be (we can’t know for sure one way or another). But it shows a sloppy lack of testing and science in a premier resource that Eli Lilly spent a lot of money for WebMD to develop.

That’s one of the reasons I’m not a big fan of these quizzes developed on-the-fly for big health websites. We develop our quizzes in-house for a good reason — there’s a lot of work that goes into them to ensure they are both valid and reliable. That they don’t just tell you you need help when you clearly do not. That’s why you’ll find our quick 8-question depression quiz doesn’t just ask Yes/No questions, because you can’t get the fine granularity needed to help do an accurate and useful screen.

I suspect someone at Eli Lilly (and maybe even WebMD) knows this. Certainly Brunilda Nazario, MD — whose name appears as the medical reviewer on this content — should be ashamed of this. Why would a medical doctor of Dr. Nazario’s character not notice that in the world of WebMD, everyone is at risk?

Thanks to our new ADHD blogger and iFred founder, Kathryn Goetzke, for sending in this news tip.

WebMD’s Depression Test Has Issues

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). WebMD’s Depression Test Has Issues. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 25 Feb 2010)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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