DURBAN – A new study has found that anxiety-related Google searches reached a record high amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The study conducted by researchers from the Qualcomm Institute at the University of California San Diego analysed Google Trends dating back 16 years and found that people searched for severe anxiety-related information at record highs in the beginning of the pandemic.
In a statement Benjamin Althouse, a principal scientist at the Institute for Disease Modeling, said: “Researchers looked for searches on “anxiety” or “panic” in combination with “attack,” such as “panic attack,” “signs of anxiety attack,” “anxiety attack symptoms,” and so forth. In fact, searches for anxiety and panic attacks were the highest they’ve ever been in over 16 years of historical search data.”
In the early days of the pandemic, health experts had warned that the coronavirus pandemic may have a profound impact on people’s mental health.
A research paper published in the Wits Journal of Clinical Medicine indicated that SARS-CoV-2 infection may itself lead to psychiatric symptoms in some patients, including delirium and psychosis.
Meanwhile the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) says the call volumes to their helpline doubled, when Covid-19 lockdowns were first instituted. But due to the social distancing regulations, counsellors could no longer be sent into its call centre. Instead, it arranged for calls to its helplines to be routed through an app.
“And now nearly five months into lockdown, the impact on mental health has been immense – people have intense anxiety, depression, lost their jobs and no money, as well as relapses due to not seeking treatment. People are struggling with all aspects of their life, work, family, children,” said Sadag operations director Cassey Chambers.
In conclusion, the researchers also noted that most searches land on websites that do not provide links to a helpline. The team urged the search engine to include life-saving results at the top of the search results, such as suicide and addiction hotlines.
“Time-sensitive decision-making during a pandemic underscores the importance of fostering an agile empirical approach that can continually monitor health threats, including the ability to study an outcome without a prior anticipatory data collection. Mining internet searches may improve strategies to discover and subsequently address the collateral mental health consequences,” added Althouse
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