As the year progresses, we are beginning to see the damaging effects the COVID-19 pandemic and isolation has had on our mental health. One such way is through popular Google searches.
According to researchers from Qualcomm Institute’s Centre for Data Driven Health at the University of California San Diego in the United States, Google searches for keywords related to panic attacks and anxiety (including panic attack, signs of an anxiety attack, anxiety attack symptoms) spiked in mid-March to mid-May.
The team of researchers analysed the frequency at which these phrases were searched for in the U.S between January 2004 and May 2020, and according to CNN Health, took into consideration variables like population growth and increased internet use since 2004.
Comparing the trend of these search terms pre-pandemic, the researchers believe the health crisis caused roughly an 11% increase in panic attack and anxiety-related Google searches within a 58-day period in the U.S.
“In practical terms, 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,” Benjamin Althouse, a collaborator on the study, said. “Searches for anxiety and panic attacks were the highest they’ve ever been in over 16 years of historical search data.”
The highest day of Google searches was March 28, when searches for anxiety were 52% higher than expected had the pandemic not occurred. This spike came the day before the U.S Government announced an official extension of social distancing measures.
“Even though acute anxiety has received substantial rhetorical attention during the COVID-19 pandemic, to our knowledge it has not been subject to scientific inquiry until now,” the study reads.
“Although this study cannot confirm that any search was linked to a specific acute anxiety event or panic attack, it provides evidence of the collateral psychological effects stemming from COVID-19, and motivates several data-driven recommendations.”
While this data is from the U.S, we have experienced a similar spike in calls to support services like Lifeline during the COVID-19 pandemic. And, it’s also a reminder that Australians are most likely similarly experiencing anxiety and panic attacks and turning to Google for support.
If you are in this position, don’t hesitate to give Lifeline a call on 13 11 14 for immediate crisis support. Alternatively, make an appointment with your GP via Telehealth to discuss how you’ve been feeling as you don’t need to be dealing with this by yourself.
If you or anyone you know is struggling and needs support, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14, both of which provide trained counsellors you can talk with 24/7. You can also speak with someone confidentially at Headspace by calling 1800 650 890 or chat online here.