Mental health severely affected by pandemic

Online searches on loneliness and worry jumped
  • Deborah Condon

Online searches for topics related to boredom, loneliness and worry jumped significantly at the start of the first COVID-19 lockdown, a new study has shown.

European and Canadian researchers examined Google Trends data from 10 countries worldwide, including Ireland, the UK, France, Spain and the US, between January 2019 and April 2020.

They compared how often people searched for 13 key terms just before lockdown, at the start of the initial lockdown and 12 months earlier.

The study found that compared to 12 months earlier, the number of online searches for boredom in Europe at the time of the lockdown jumped by 93%, while searches for loneliness rose by 40% and worry by 27%.

The results were similar whether countries were in partial or full lockdown. This, the researchers said, suggests that any kind of restrictions can have a big impact on wellbeing.

"Our findings indicate that people's mental health may have been severely affected by the pandemic and lockdown. There was a substantial increase in searches for boredom, loneliness and worry. It may be necessary to make sure support is provided to help those struggling most with lockdown," commented one of the study authors, Prof Nattavudh Powdthavee, of the University of Warwick in the UK.

The researchers did note that online searches for suicide, divorce and stress fell during this time.

They also noted that the number of searches for sadness started to "revert towards the norm, perhaps reflecting hopes that lockdown would be relatively short lived".

"However, the effects on boredom and worry have not dissipated over time and this snapshot of wellbeing in the first weeks of lockdown does not account potential fatigue as individuals grow increasingly tired of self-regulating as time passes," commented Prof Abel Brodeur of the University of Ottawa in Canada.

He said that this is a reminder that while the economic cost of the pandemic and lockdown is considerable, "there are other potential costs in terms of trust, disruption to schooling, and wellbeing".

"That is particularly relevant as many countries are going through another wave of the pandemic and are facing fresh restrictions," he added.

Details of these findings are published in the Journal of Public Economics.


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