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Rick Steelhammer: Google depression quiz gives pause for thought

With ‘newspaper reporter’ rated the worst job in America for the past four years by, the internet job forecast and placement service, while living in a state found to be the most miserable in the nation by Gallup-Healthways polls for the past eight years, there’s ample reason to be depressed without even considering North Korea lobbing a hydrogen bomb in our direction, watching a never-ending train of hurricanes derail peoples’ lives or learning of the demise of the bridge-dwelling goat of Clendenin.

Newspaper reporting ranked 200th out of 200 occupations surveyed due to its low pay, high stress and dismal projected growth rate of -8 percent. West Virginia’s 50th out of 50 states ranking in overall happiness was ascribed to its bottom-of-the-heap status in such areas as health, income, college education rate, percentage of smokers and obesity rate.

While those stats are alarming, I am more depressed over how my line of work and my state have been devalued than how they affect me, since I still enjoy my job, despite its gloomy outlook, and prefer living here than in any other state, despite their low body-fat indexes, abundant bike paths and convenient locally grown produce stores.

So when I learned that Google was offering a free clinical depression screening test to all web surfers using its search engine to look up the word ‘depression,’ I decided to give it a whirl to see if I had bottomed out yet. As it turned out, the test concluded that I was only mildly depressed, which made me feel mildly happy — until I started thinking about all the personal information Google had already collected from me in the years preceding the test.

By tracking my website visits, ad clicks, video viewings, age, online spending habits and current location, the search engine should have already known pretty much everything about me by now — so much so that I can expect an ad for a vacation spot, restaurant, sporting good item or book I’ve clicked on or looked up online to appear on my next search.

With the answers I provided for the depression quiz, I suppose I can also look forward on future searches to ads for pints of gourmet ice cream, fifths of bourbon, muscle cars, gym memberships and subscriptions to “Mindful” magazine.

I think the answer to keeping my depression from falling far below mild might lie in another bit of news making the rounds last week on several of the outdoor websites I follow. It seems that researchers studying the effects of wastewater treatment plant effluent on game fish in the Niagara River, which connects Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, have detected alarmingly high concentrations of metabolized antidepressants, including Zoloft, Prozac and Celexa, in the brains and muscles of the 10 species studied.

I’ve read that fishing can be therapeutic when dealing with depression.

It may be time to dust off my tackle and head north.

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