Acute anxiety: Internet searches for key words spiked to all-time high early in pandemic

The recent uptick in anxiety-related searches online could help build the case for more targeted mental health interventions, researchers said in a new study released Monday.

(CNN)As the coronavirus pandemic gained traction in the United States, internet searches for key words related to panic attacks and acute anxiety spiked.

Google searches for anxiety symptoms from mid-March to mid-May were the highest they've been in the history of the search engine, according to researchers at the Qualcomm Institute's Center for Data Driven Health at the University of California San Diego.
The study was published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
    In particular, anxiety and panic attack searches corresponded to major news events, including March 16, when social distancing guidelines were put in place nationally; and March 29, when those guidelines were extended.
      Queries also spiked on April 3, when US President Donald Trump announced face mask recommendations; and on April 11, when the US surpassed Italy in the number of coronavirus deaths.
      The results could give leaders and policy makers perspective on how to manage the general population's perception of public health directives, and could inform how we empower those in crisis to seek help quickly, researchers said.
      "For some, fear has a greater adverse effect on their health than Covid does," said John Ayers, lead author of the study and adjunct associate professor at San Diego State University. "The results can help leaders listen and think holistically about the cost of some of those measures."

        Timely insight into the nation's mood

        Researchers monitored how often people searched phrases such as "panic attack," "anxiety attack," "am I having a panic attack?", "signs of anxiety attack" and "anxiety attack symptoms."
        The scientists compared the total number of anxiety-related searches during the early days of the pandemic with data reaching back to January 2004, and they adjusted for variables such as population growth and increased internet use over the past two decades.
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