Clues to mental health found in Google searches

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Google may hold the key to happiness ...or depression.

It seems that Google searches for information about common mental illnesses follow seasonal trends, maybe even more than originally thought.

Some mental illness patterns can be tracked seasonally. Depression, for example, may occur more often in the winter.

But if you want more information, perhaps by survey, it’s going to be hard to get people to speak honestly about their mental health, suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-loathing. It’s also expensive. But there may be a new tool.

The Internet tells all

"The internet is a game changer," noted John W. Ayers, lead investigator of the study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. "By passively monitoring how individuals search online, we can figuratively look inside the heads of searchers to understand population mental health patterns."

Google gives up its secrets

Researchers used Google’s public database of questions, identifying and following mental health questions in Australia and the United States between 2006 and 2010.

All questions related to mental health were recorded and categorized. OCD, schizophrenia, suicide, ADHD, anxiety, eating disorders, depression and bipolar were all included.

The researchers found that all mental health searches were higher in the winter than in summer. Eating disorders declined 37 percent in summer in the U.S. and 42 percent in Australia. Schizophrenia searches went down 37 percent in the U.S. in summer and 36 percent in Australia. Suicide went down 24 percent in the U.S. and 17 percent in Australia also in summer.

Mental health searches consistent with the seasons

“We didn’t expect to find similar winter peaks and summer troughs for queries involving every specific mental illness or problem we studied; however, the results consistently showed seasonal effects across all conditions – even after adjusting for media trends,” noted James Niels Rosenquist, MD, PhD, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Limitless potential for cheap, easy and accurate data

“Our findings can help researchers across the field of mental health generate additional new hypotheses while exploring other trends inexpensively in real-time,” said Benjamin Althouse of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “For instance, moving forward, we can explore daily patterns in mental health information seeking ... maybe even finding a ‘Monday effect.’ The potential is limitless.”

Source: MedicalNewsToday. American Journal of Preventive Medicine

 
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