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Publication Detail
Is Google Trends a useful tool for tracking mental and social distress during a public health emergency? A time–series analysis
  • Publication Type:
    Journal article
  • Authors:
    Knipe D, Gunnell D, Evans H, John A, Fancourt D
  • Publication date:
    01/11/2021
  • Pagination:
    737, 744
  • Journal:
    Journal of Affective Disorders
  • Volume:
    294
  • Status:
    Published
  • Language:
    English
  • Keywords:
    Mental Health, Pandemic, Suicide, Depression, Loneliness, Anxiety, Domestic violence
  • Notes:
    Copyright © 2021 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
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 (21/03/2020 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 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.
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