Web Searches Suggesting Acute Anxiety Spiked Early in COVID-19

Largest spike in acute anxiety queries recorded on March 28, 2020, with 52 percent more queries than expected

Woman using laptop computer late at night

TUESDAY, Aug. 25, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Internet searches indicative of acute anxiety peaked early in the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a research letter published online Aug. 24 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

John W. Ayers, Ph.D., from the University of California in San Diego, and colleagues examined the association between COVID-19 and anxiety on a population basis by examining internet searches indicative of acute anxiety during the early stages of the pandemic. Search volumes were compared after declaration of a national COVID-19 emergency on March 13, 2020, to expected search volumes if COVID-19 had not occurred.

The researchers found that for the 58-day period from March 13, 2020, to May 9, 2020, all acute anxiety queries were cumulatively 11 percent higher than expected, representing a new all-time high for searches for acute anxiety. In absolute terms, there were about 375,000 more searches than expected for a total of 3.4 million searches. On March 28, 2020, the largest spike in queries occurred, with 52 percent more than expected. Between March 16, 2020, and April 14, 2020, most excess queries occurred, with queries 17 percent higher than expected. On April 15, 2020, queries first returned to expected levels; thereafter, all queries fell to expected prediction intervals.

"In theory, decision makers could track searches for hundreds of mental health problems, identify the subset that have greatest volume, and target resources to meet those needs," a coauthor said in a statement.

Several authors disclosed financial ties to the medical technology industry.

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