People Search for Information About Mental Health Less Often in the Summer

As flowers start to reemerge, people seem a whole lot happier. And they might actually be happier, if Google searches are any indication

Image: Dean Ward

As spring finally creeps its way into the Northern Hemisphere and the flowers start to reemerge, people seem a whole lot happier. And they might actually be happier, if Google searches are any indication.

A recent study that looked at search histories found that in the summertime, people search less often for information about mental health issues. They search for information about eating disorders 37 percent less, for information about ADHD 28 percent less and for suicide 24 percent less. This trend doesn’t hold true for all problems—the difference between summer and winter for searches about anxiety was only 7 percent.

Now, these results were only for the United States and Australia. And the assumption that our Google search queries reflect how we’re feeling isn’t necessarily a good one. Cultural or political events can trigger searches, as can academics who study the topic or journalists researching stories like this one.

The authors tried to rule out a lot of those confounding factors, noting that news stories for schizophrenia were higher in the summer than in the winter. They also hope that the study will help give mental health doctors a better sense for when to look for mental health symptoms. They write:

A major challenge in mental health is how to not only assess but also treat mental illness among individuals who do not present for treatment or cannot be reached with telephone surveys. The Internet is a stigma- and cost-reducing venue to help screen and treat those who search for but may not bring problems to the attention of their clinicians. Internet-based treatment programs show promise; however, many search engine results are of questionable quality. Advertisements on search engines to evidence-based programs may link searchers to the best websites. This approach may be especially important for early detection and preventing more severe or opportunistic problems.

Using this work, doctors and outreach groups could place ads for those searching for mental health questions could reach out to them. And knowing when people are sad could help them pick when to deploy those ads.

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