The Qualcomm Institute Center for Data Driven Health conducted a study recently about the internet searches on Google lately since the pandemic began and discovered that most of these were about symptoms of mental health disorders like anxiety.
A sudden shift in the usual lifestyle could take a toll on the mental stability and coping mechanisms of a person, especially as the world faces a global health crisis.
The span of the research was from the time when President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on March 13 until May 9. Specifically, queries on symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks ran alongside news of health protocols implementation. Particular dates include March 16, when social distancing was imposed nationwide, and March 29, when it was extended.
Additional dates are April 3, when wearing of face mask was recommended, and when the news of the number of Covid deaths in the US beat that of Italy’s on April 11.
The findings of this study provide a look into how the public receives these kinds of news about public health and how that information can be utilized to improve response and management.
Google searches with the keywords that included “anxiety attack,” “panic attack,” and the symptoms of both were monitored. The search volume during the first couple of months into the pandemic was compared with the search volume dated way back in 2004, considering adjustments based on population growth and the increase in the number of internet users over time. They discovered that the searches increased by 11% over the span of the research period.
“Over the first 58 days of the Covid-19 pandemic there were an estimated 3.4 million total searches related to severe acute anxiety in the United States,” stated Benjamin Althouse, one of the researchers.
There has not been a search query volume recorded that high in more than 16 years of search history. The largest spike was on March 28, with “acute anxiety” as the most common search. This was the day before the extension of social distancing measures.
On August 14, the CDC released a report titled “Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The report revealed a significant increase in mental health threat to respondents from all over the United States. New mental health conditions rose by 40.9%, 30.9% of respondents reported trauma relating to the virus outbreak, and 26.3% of them admitted to having had an increase in substance use. Suicidal tendencies were also present in 18-24 year old age groups.
The new information gathered from this study could significantly help to improve the government’s response plan to mental health emergencies. Looking into the data on search engines provide far more useful and easily accessible information on the state of the mental health of people.