Researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center have conducted a study on google searches in the US in the months of March and April. After analyzing the data, the researchers found that there will be more suicided cases in coming months.
As per the findings published online in PLOS One, U.S. Google searches for information about financial difficulties and disaster relief increased sharply in March and April compared to pre-pandemic times.
Because previous research has shown that financial distress is strongly linked to suicide mortality, the researchers fear that the increase may predict a future increase in deaths from suicide.
Pandemics and suicide
Researchers in the United States and elsewhere have begun studying how the COVID-19 pandemic I affecting mental health of people. However, it is not an easy task assess the impact of the pandemic on suicidal behavior.
Soon after a major disaster, suicide rates often decrease, but may increase several months later. Be it the 9/11, or the 1918 flu pandemic, or the 2003 SARS outbreak in Hong Kong, suicide rates had not jumped immediately after the crisis. However, suicide rates jumped few months later.
In the current study, the researchers used an algorithm to analyze Google trends data from March 3, 2019, to April 18, 2020, and identify proportional changes over time in searches for 18 terms related to suicide and known suicide risk factors.
The researchers used an algorithm to analyze Google trends data from March 3, 2019, to April 18, 2020, and identify proportional changes over time in searches for 18 terms related to suicide and known suicide risk factors.
The researchers found dramatic relative increases (in the thousands of percentages, in some cases) in Googling search terms related to financial distress — e.g., “I lost my job,” “unemployment,” and “furlough” — and for the national Disaster Distress Helpline.
The proportion of queries related to depression was slightly higher than the pre-pandemic period, and moderately higher for panic attack.
Searches for terms related to loneliness were also meaningfully higher during the early pandemic period versus the prior year.
The researchers say that in light of an anticipated increase in suicidal crises, it will be important to ensure continued availability and accessibility of crisis services and other mental health services during the later stages of the pandemic.
“We didn’t have a clear hypothesis about whether there would be an increase in suicide-related queries during this period of time, but we anticipated a national sense of community during the pandemic that might mitigate suicidal behavior in the short term,” says Emily Halford, MPH, data analyst and the study’s first author.