Global increase in suicide based on Google searches

Published Aug 5, 2020


CAPE TOWN - A recent study conducted by Columbia University Irving Medical Center has suggested a possible global suicide rate increase may soon take place based on recent Google searches during the pandemic.

The pandemic has come with a new way of life with a sudden change in the way we live and the things we do. These trying times present their own unique challenges that affect everyone differently but have not been easy for most.

The researchers from the United States and elsewhere begun studying how the Covid-19 pandemic affected mental health, but due to a surge Covid-19 prioritised it became difficult to assess suicidal behaviour and deaths which then redirected the researchers to instead analyse google searches linked to suicide or suicidal factors such as financial and emotional distress.

Using a Google Trends algorithm during the early periods of the pandemic, researchers compared data from 3 March 2019 to 18 April 2020, finding a significant rise in Google searches finding 18 common terms related to suicide and identified suicidal factors.

The researches found an increase in searches linked to loneliness, depression and financial distress with commonly searched terms such as - “I lost my job,” “unemployment,” and “furlough” with disaster distress helplines searches increasing too.

According to the study, although these may not be immediate signs the data captured is still concerning as these factors may contribute to long-term suicidal factors.

“It seems as though individuals are grappling with the immediate stresses of job loss and isolation and are reaching out to crisis services for help, but the impact on suicidal behaviour hasn’t yet manifested. Generally, depression can take longer to develop, whereas panic attacks may be a more immediate reaction to job loss and having to deal with emotionally charged events amidst the social isolation of the pandemic,” said Madelyn Gould, PhD, MPH, the Irving Philips Professor of Epidemiology in Psychiatry at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and senior author of the study.

Gould said physical distancing was implemented to reduce to speed of transmission of Covid-19 “but this approach may have detrimental secondary effects, such as loneliness and exacerbation of preexisting mental illnesses, which are known suicide risk factors.”

Click here to view the study report

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