A new study analyzed 16 years of Google Trends data and found that anxiety-related searches reached an all-time high in the United States during the first 58 days after President Trump declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency on March 13.
Researchers from the Qualcomm Institute’s Center for Data Driven Health at the University of California San Diego looked for searches on “anxiety” or “panic” in combination with “attack,” such as “signs of anxiety attack,” “panic attack,” or “anxiety attack symptoms,” according to the study published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
Anxiety-related searches were 11% higher than usual from March 13 to May 9, when the study commenced.
There were 3.4 million total searches for anxiety, about 375,000 more than usual.
Anxiety-related searches increased by 17% from March 16, when national social distancing guidelines were first imposed to April 14, days after the U.S. passed Italy for the most deaths.
The largest spike, a 52% increase occurred on March 28, just two days after the U.S. surpassed China with the most reported cases.
Searches first returned to usual levels on April 15, which researchers viewed as a sign that Americans could “have become more resilient to the societal fallout of Covid-19” or that “they had already received whatever benefit they could from searching the internet.”
Although the researchers point out that the study cannot confirm any searches were linked to a specific anxiety event, such as a panic attack, it is evidence of the psychological impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The researchers made several recommendations. First, they recommend continuing to monitor the search terms because changes during the pandemic may cause another increase. Second, they suggest resource providers address anxiety better, noting that Illinois launched “Call4Calm,” a hotline which helps people cope with Covid-19 anxiety. Third, they said people who search anxiety-related terms should be directed to appropriate hotlines.
Other studies have examined the mental health implications of the pandemic, including a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey published August 14 which found 40% of U.S. adults reported difficulties with mental health or substance abuse in June. Younger adults, racial and ethnic minorities, essential workers and unpaid adult caregivers reported having experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use and elevated suicidal ideation.