Researchers from Columbia University Irving Medical Center have found that US Google searches for information related to financial difficulties and disaster relief increased significantly during the ongoing pandemic, especially in March and April.
The researchers also found that Google searches related to suicide decreased; however, previous studies have shown that financial distress is strongly associated with suicide mortality, with the researchers predicting a future increase in suicide rates.
Senior researcher of the study Madelyn Gould said, “The scale of the increase in Google searches related to financial distress and disaster relief during the early months of the pandemic was remarkable, so this finding is concerning.”
The researchers analyzed online searches about suicide and suicide risk factors during the early stages of the pandemic and long-term impact on suicide.
The first author of the study Emily Halford said, “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.”
The investigators found an increase in Google search terms related to financial distress, such as “I lost my job,” “unemployment,” and “furlough.”
Also, the queries related to depression and panic attacks were slightly higher during the pandemic.
Gould explained, “It seems as though individuals are grappling with the immediate stresses of job loss and isolation and are reaching out to crisis services for help, but the impact on suicidal behavior hasn’t yet manifested.”
“Generally, depression can take longer to develop, whereas panic attacks may be a more immediate reaction to job loss and having to deal with emotionally charged events amidst the social isolation of the pandemic,” she added.
Furthermore, the researcher found that Google searches related to loneliness were also increased during the COVID-19 crisis.
Gould explained that social distancing is the primary measure implemented to curb the spread of the virus, “but this approach may have detrimental secondary effects, such as loneliness and exacerbation of preexisting mental illnesses, which are known suicide risk factors.”
“The current findings give us insight into how people have been dealing with the immediate emotional and financial effects of the pandemic,” Gould added.
“Encouragingly, individuals who Google terms related to suicide are directed to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline,” she continued. “We are hoping that accessing this crisis service may ameliorate suicide risk among the individuals who have Googled suicide-related terms.” The study findings were published online in PLOS One. The article originally appeared on Medical Xpress.