Research Brief: Dartmouth researchers study impact of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders on Google search behavior in the US related to mental health symptoms

Research Summary: Nicholas Jacobson, PhD, leads a study on the impact of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders on Google search behavior in the US related to mental health symptoms to gain insight into acute mental health consequences associated with the pandemic.

Methods: The current manuscript evaluates the impact of stay-at-home orders on mental health search queries between March 16-23, 2020. This work utilizes Google Trends to quantify changes in search behavior in the 50 states within the United States as well as the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) with the goal of better understanding the acute mental health impact of stay-at-home orders amidst COVID-19. Specifically, we sought to determine whether stay-at-home orders resulted in increased affective symptoms as might be suggested by theories related to potential impacts of prolonged social isolation, or, in contrast, whether there might be improved mental health from clear government action rather than continuing to live in a state of uncertainty caused by government inaction.

Findings: Prior to stay-at-home orders, searches on mental health symptoms were rising exponentially. Once stay-at home orders were announced, searches on mental health symptoms flattened immediately.

Public health relevance: COVID-19 stay-at-home orders immediately prevented further exacerbation in mental health symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive, negative thoughts, irritability, fatigue, anhedonia, concentration, insomnia, and suicidal ideation. Future research could determine whether the observed plateau of mental-health related searches will be sustained through the duration of stay-at-home orders and the long-term meal health effects of COVID-119 and governmental responses to COVID-19.

Full citation

Jacobson, N. C., Lekkas, D., Price, G., Heinz, M. V., Song, M., O’Malley, A. J., & Barr, P. J. (2020, April 8). Flattening the Mental Health Curve: COVID-19 Stay-at-Home Orders Result in Alterations in Mental Health Search Behavior in the United States.