Research Technology — 11 April 2013

Google is flush with mental illness queries during the chillier months, a “game-changing” US and Australian research finds, suggesting psychiatric disorders are more strongly linked with seasonal patterns than previously thought.

Using the search engine to monitor mental illness queries on both sides of the Pacific between 2006 and 2010, the study found consistently higher search rates for a range of psychiatric disorders in winter compared to summer.

Eating disorder searches jumped 42% in Australian winters compared to the summers, and 37% in US winters, the  researchers reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Schizophrenia queries dropped 36% and 37% while suicide searches dipped 29 and 24% over Australian and US summers respectively.

Searches for bipolar, ADHD, OCD followed the same pattern, though not to the same degree, recording winter search spikes 16-31% higher in both countries.

Anxiety had the smallest seasonal change of 15% in Australia and seven percent in the US.

Lead investigator John Ayers at the Graduate School of Public Health at San Diego State University touted the technique as a “game changer” for population health monitoring.

“By passively monitoring how individuals search online we can figuratively look inside the heads of searchers to understand population mental health patterns.”

As first appeared in Psychiatry Update, 10 April 2013

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