Health & Wellbeing

Mental Health Web Searches Spike During Pandemic

Google Trends data shows a direct correlation between increased web searches for mental health and lockdowns during the pandemic. Leanne Elliott examines the data.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we use technology to communicate. It has also changed how we search for, receive and consume news and information.

Once the facts of the pandemic began trickling out of China, web searches for key terms such as depression, isolation, suicide, and mental health all experienced a sharp and rapid increase.

Despite the widespread impact on the mental health of Australians, a recent report by the Australian National University (ANU), published in February 2021, found Australians seem to be coping relatively well since the beginning of the pandemic in late 2019. The report remarks, “…it would appear that more Australians are doing ok and are optimistic about the future.

“Anxiety and worry due to COVID-19 and expectations of infection are significantly down from their peak in mid-2020, albeit remaining reasonably steady since November 2020,” says the report.

Whether this optimistic view changes as a result of the current outbreaks is yet to be seen.

However, Google Trends data, between August 2020 and August 2021, shows Western Australia (WA), the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), South Australia (SA), and Victoria (Vic) rated consistently high for web searches which include depression, isolation, suicide, and mental health.

Google Trends Data: 2016 – 2021

The same data reveals several cities with consistently high ratings for web searches which include the term depression, isolation, suicide, and mental health. These cities include Canberra, Wollongong, the Central Coast, Brisbane, and Hobart.

Key terms frequently used in conjunction with the terms depression, isolation, suicide, or mental health varied. Searches for depression often included terms such as anxiety, signs of depression, help, treatment, medication, and causes. The term isolation included terms like self-isolation, isolation payments and isolation rules. Searches for mental health also used key terms such as Forensic Provisions Act, urgent health care, triage Adelaide and mullet for mental health.

However, when examining key terms used in conjunction with the term suicide the limits of Google Trends data become apparent. This data included a high number of searches for suicide TikTok video and live suicide on TikTok resulting from a live video of a suicide being posted to popular video platform in September 2020. Searches for the key term suicide also contained a high number of searches related to the movie chain, Suicide Squad.

Despite its limitations, the Google Trends data does reveal a clear correlation between a rise in internet users searching the web for information relating to depression, isolation, suicide, and mental health during the initial COVID-19 outbreak; with obvious spikes coinciding with lockdowns, restrictions, and ongoing outbreaks of COVID-19.

Use the QR code to view more information on the Google Trends data discussed here.

The latest information from Mental Health Services in Australia (MHSA) shows an increase in the number of PBS prescriptions dispensed since March 2020. During the same period an overall increase in the number of calls have been received by mental health services such as Lifeline, Kids Helpline and Beyond Blue.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also seen major changes in how mental health services are being funded, monitored and delivered.

In 2020, the National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan injected $48.1 million in funding to mental health services with the aim of meeting the mental health needs of Australians, providing balanced, flexible and consistent responses and to develop methods to improve future planning.

Also, mental health services are employing a range of digital technologies including telehealth services and digital mental health tools.

The pandemic has also led to mental health monitoring and tracking systems being expanded, including the use of big data and the integration of state monitoring and online reporting systems to monitor mental health and to plan for the future needs of Australians.

If you are currently struggling with mental health, please reach out to someone for support or contact:

Beyond Blue 1300 224 636  |  Lifeline 13 11 14  |  The University of Newcastle After-Hours Support 1300 653 007

Feature Image by Leanne Elliott, Staff Writer

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