Since March, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
Researchers at Central Michigan University, Loyola University, and Tulane University used Google Trends to study “an extensive list of mental-health related terms” that people began to search for both before and after the coronavirus was declared a global pandemic.
A press release from Tulane University reported that there was a “major jump in searches related to anxiety, panic attacks and treatments for panic attacks, especially remote and self-care techniques.”
“Google Trends is a powerful publicly accessible website that allows individuals to examine longitudinal population-level variation in the relative frequency with which people use specific Google search terms. Data are updated in real-time and can be examined worldwide or by nation, state, metro region, or city. Although by no means a ‘window into the soul,’ people’s search terms reflect relatively uncensored desires for information and thus lack many of the biases of traditional self-report surveys,” the researchers said in the study.
The researchers said that Google Trends is a beneficial tool used to predict critical events, such as voting behavior and disease transmission. Scientists say it can also be used to “forecast population mental health symptoms and needs.”
When finding data, the team did not see an increase in searches related to suicide, abuse, depression, and loneliness. The scientists shared that this “may be that the onset of such changes will occur later, suggesting the need for continued surveillance on Google Trends.”
The findings were published recently in the journal “Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy.”
“Our analyses from shortly after the pandemic declaration are the tip of the iceberg,” lead study author Michael Hoerger, an assistant professor of psychology in the Tulane School of Science and Engineering, said in a statement.
The researchers said that their findings “suggest that Americans are already experiencing meaningful increases in anxiety symptoms and have a desire for the remote delivery of common anxiety treatment techniques.”