The Surprising Symptom Everyone's Googling in the Pandemic, Study Says

Paul Thompson
·2 mins read

Besides the effects of the virus itself, concerns about mental health have been part of the national conversation since COVID took hold in March. In the past seven months, isolation, unemployment, and general uncertainty have continued to threaten the mental well-being of millions of people in the United States and abroad. To understand the changes in mental health in the U.S. during this time, researchers from Tulane University, Loyola University New Orleans, and Central Michigan University used Google search trends to get a snapshot of how things have changed in the 40 days following the World Health Organization's pandemic declaration on March 11, 2020. Based on their analysis published in Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, the team concluded that not only did people experience a substantial increase in symptoms of anxiety disorder since COVID hit, but also a growing interest in treatment techniques that they could employ at home.

Looking at the performance of certain key words searched on Google, the researchers found that in the days and weeks following the WHO's pandemic declaration, there was a steep surge in searches that used words like worry, worry health, panic, and hysteria. In addition, searches for anxiety-related symptoms experienced a slower incline, but the increase was steady and more enduring over the period analyzed.

Shot of a young man looking stressed out at home
Shot of a young man looking stressed out at home

What's perhaps even more interesting, is that the researchers could not find any evidence that searches for other mental health conditions and their symptoms were on the rise. Despite plenty of coverage in the media about the mental health implications of COVID, searches related to depression, insomnia, loneliness, and more, didn't appear to be increasing. The trend was completely unique to anxiety.

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The other key takeaway of the analysis was the rise in searches for remote therapist options, and an increased interest in common anxiety treatments. For example, there was a substantial rise in search terms like deep breathing and body scan meditation.

According to the study's authors: "Continued monitoring of Google Trends may reveal changes in other mental health symptoms over the longer term that we could not yet detect. These findings and continued surveillance can guide public mental health initiatives across multiple ecological levels that can mitigate the psychological toll of COVID-19." And for more on your mental health, check out How You're Making Your Depression Worse.