Is Google Trends a useful tool for tracking mental and social distress during a public health emergency? A time-series analysis

Duleeka Knipe, David J Gunnell*, Hannah Evans, Ann John, Daisy Fancourt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

7 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Background Google Trends data are increasingly used by researchers as an indicator of population mental health, but few studies have investigated the validity of this approach during a public health emergency. Methods Relative search volumes (RSV) for the topics depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicide, suicidal ideation, loneliness, and abuse were obtained from Google Trends. We used graphical and time-series approaches to compare daily trends in searches for these topics against population measures of these outcomes recorded using validated self-report scales (PHQ-9; GAD-7; UCLA-3) in a weekly survey (n=∼70,000) of the impact COVID-19 on psychological and social experiences in the UK population (12/03/2020 to 21/08/ 2020). Results Self-reported levels of depression, anxiety, self-harm/suicidal ideation, self-harm, loneliness and abuse decreased during the period studied. There was no evidence of an association between self-reported anxiety, self-harm, abuse and RSV on Google Trends. Trends in Google topic RSV for depression and suicidal ideation were inversely associated with self-reports of these outcomes (p=0.03 and p=0.04 respectively). However, there was statistical and graphical evidence that self-report and Google searches for loneliness (p<0.001) tracked one another. Limitations No age/sex breakdown of Google Trends data are available. Survey respondents were not representative of the UK population and no pre-pandemic data were available. Conclusion Google Trends data do not appear to be a useful indicator of changing levels of population mental health during a public health emergency, but may have some value as an indicator of loneliness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)737-744
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Volume294
Early online date9 Jul 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This COVID-19 Social Study was funded by the Nuffield Foundation (WEL/FR-000022583), but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation. The study was also supported by the MARCH Mental Health Network, funded by the Cross-Disciplinary Mental Health Network Plus initiative supported by UK Research and Innovation (ES/S002588/1), and by the Wellcome Trust (221400/Z/20/Z). DF was funded by the Wellcome Trust (205407/Z/16/Z). This work was supported by the Wellcome Trust through an Institutional Strategic Support Fund Award to the University of Bristol [204813] which supports DK. DK is also supported through the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research, University of Bristol. DG is supported by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Bristol, England. AJ and HE are supported by the Medical Research Council (MC_PC_17211).

Funding Information:
This COVID-19 Social Study was funded by the Nuffield Foundation ( WEL/FR-000022583 ), but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation. The study was also supported by the MARCH Mental Health Network, funded by the Cross-Disciplinary Mental Health Network Plus initiative supported by UK Research and Innovation ( ES/S002588/1 ), and by the Wellcome Trust ( 221400/Z/20/Z ). DF was funded by the Wellcome Trust ( 205407/Z/16/Z ). This work was supported by the Wellcome Trust through an Institutional Strategic Support Fund Award to the University of Bristol [ 204813 ] which supports DK. DK is also supported through the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research , University of Bristol . DG is supported by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Bristol, England. AJ and HE are supported by the Medical Research Council ( MC_PC_17211 ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021

Keywords

  • Mental Health
  • Pandemic
  • Suicide
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Domestic violence

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'Is Google Trends a useful tool for tracking mental and social distress during a public health emergency? A time-series analysis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this