COVID-19 Has impacted mental health dramatically.
The pandemic will affect the population in a series of waves: the immediate morbidity and mortality from COVID-19, disruptions to urgent care for non-COVID-19 conditions, disruptions to chronic disease care, and the rapidly escalating incidence of mental health conditions related to generalized anxiety, trauma, and other sequelae. The capacity to detect emerging changes in mental health symptoms and treatment needs could guide public policy decisions, the strategic decision making of mental health organizations, the availability of assessment and treatment services, and research funding priorities at state, regional, and national levels. The present investigation was designed to illustrate how Google Trends can be used to track emerging COVID-19-related changes in population mental health.
Foremost, following the pandemic declaration, we found a steep but temporary increase in Google searches related to worry (see Figure 1A; worry: p < .0001, worry health: p = .017, panic: p < .0001, and hysteria: p < .0001, with a similar pattern for related terms not shown). Next, we suspect this everyday worry began to morph into increases in clinically relevant anxiety symptoms. As shown in Figure 1B, anxiety symptom-related searches spiked slightly later and were more enduring (all ps < .001). Note that while worry and anxiety symptom searches have regressed most recently, it is unknown whether symptoms are actually abating or search behavior is merely exhausting.
Holmes, E. A., O’Connor, R. C., Perry, V. H., Tracey, I., Wessely, S., Arseneault, L., . . . Bullmore, E. (2020). Multidisciplinary research priorities for the COVID-19 pandemic: A call for action for mental health science. The Lancet Psychiatry, 7, 547–560. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(20)30168-1
Stephens-Davidowitz, S., & Pabon, A. (2017). Everybody lies: Big data, new data, and what the internet can tell us about who we really are. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
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Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Michael Hoerger, Departments of Psychology, Tulane University, 6400 Freret Street, Stern Hall 3070, New Orleans, LA 70118
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