Countries With Stricter Pandemic Lockdowns Had Fewer Mental Illness-Related Google Searches

Many people feel their well-being and mental state suffered from being cooped up indoors during the early waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, but could stricter and longer lockdowns really have any effect? positive effects on people’s mental health? A study published in the Psychiatric Research Journal suggests that countries with stricter confinement requirements showed less internet searches related to mental illness during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken the world by storm and dramatically changed the way many people live. Each country has handled its response to the crisis in different ways; some by imposing strict lockdowns and others by encouraging people to stay at home when possible.

During the first wave of COVID-19, many people stayed home while businesses and schools were closed. This has made the Internet the main and predominant source of information. This study explores what internet searches can reveal about differences in mental health for citizens of different countries depending on the severity of their confinement.


In the new research, Pedro A. de la Rosa and his colleagues used Google Trends search data from nine countries: Hungary, India, South Africa, Iran, Italy, Paraguay, Spain, Serbia and Turkey. The search terms studied were “anxiety”, “depression”, “suicide” and “mental health”. The data was collected over 5 years of research. Information on the COVID-19 response and individual country lockdowns has been compiled from the Oxford Government COVID-19 Response Tracker. Safety measures were collected, as well as information on the number of deaths related to COVID-19 in each country.

The results showed that, overall, duration, strictness, and lockdown policies were associated with lower Google searches for terms related to mental health. There are several nuances to note in this relationship. “Anxiety” was a term that was increasingly searched for as COVID-19 emerged before the lockdowns came into effect. “Depression” was less sought after in countries with stricter containment policies.

These relationships were not only general, but were established with respect to specific policies. Anxiety was researched less in countries that imposed stricter home confinements and depression was researched less in countries where public events were canceled. Conversely, depression was sought more often in countries that had policies that forced schools to close.

“In summary, this study provides further evidence demonstrating the potential of Google Trends to be leveraged as a source of data to understand how populations in different parts of the world might be affected by public health measures (including lockdowns) that are being implemented. implemented in response to a global health crisis,” the researchers said. “Our results could be used with other evidence (e.g., mental health surveillance studies) to inform the development of containment strategies sensitive to the mental health needs of people living in different parts of the world in future public health crises.

This study took important steps to better understand how lockdown policies affected individuals’ mental health searches. Despite this, there are some limitations worth noting. One of those limitations is that google trends doesn’t lend itself to understanding why people were searching for those terms, making it difficult to know if people were experiencing symptoms or searching for another reason. Additionally, search terms were translated to the most popular equivalent word, meaning people could search for a synonym and not be counted.

“Further research is needed to build on the findings of this study, such as whether associations of lockdowns with Google searches for mental health terms change with vaccination rates or the rise of new variants of SARS-CoV-2,” the researchers noted.

The study, “Associations of strictness and duration of confinement with Google searches for mental health terms during the COVID-19 pandemic: a study of nine countries”, Pedro A. de la Rosa, Richard G. Cowden, Renatode Filippis, Stefan Jeroti, Mahsa Nahidi, Dorottya Ori, Laura Orsolini, Sachin Nagendrappa, Mariana Pinto da Costa, Ramdas Ransing, Fahimeh Saeed, Sheikh Shoib, Serkan Turan, Irfan Ullah, Ramyadarshni Vadivel and Rodrigo Ramalho.

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