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Google Search Trends Suggest Mental Woes Vary by Seasons

TUESDAY, April 9 (HealthDay News) -- Internet searches for information about mental illnesses follow seasonal patterns, which suggests that there may be a stronger association between mental disorders and changing seasons than previously believed, a new study reports.

Researchers analyzed data from Google searches for mental health information made in Australia and the United States from 2006 through 2010. The analysis revealed that the number of such searches in both countries was consistently higher in winter than in summer.

When they looked at specific types of mental health problems, the researchers found that:

  • Eating disorder searches were 37 percent lower in summers than in winters in the United States, and 42 percent lower in summers in Australia.
  • Searches regarding schizophrenia decreased 37 percent during U.S. summers and by 36 percent in Australia.
  • For bipolar disorder information, searches dropped by at least 16 percent during summers in the United States and Australia.
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder searches fell by 28 and 31 percent, respectively, in the United States and Australia during summertime.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder queries also decreased in the summer by 18 percent in America and 15 percent in Australia.
  • Searches related to suicide fell 24 and 29 percent during U.S. and Australian summers, respectively.
  • And anxiety information searches were down 7 percent during U.S. summers and 15 percent during Australian summers.

The study is published in the May issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Even though it was already known that some mental health conditions, such as seasonal affective disorder, are associated with seasonal patterns, the researchers said they were surprised to find a link between seasons and a number of major mental health disorders.

"We didn't expect to find similar winter peaks and summer troughs for queries involving every specific mental illness or problem we studied, however, the results consistently showed seasonal effects across all conditions -- even after adjusting for media trends," Dr. James Niels Rosenquist, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said in a journal news release.

Much more research is needed to determine how this type of information might be used in prevention and treatment programs, he and his colleagues noted.

Another one of the study authors, Benjamin Althouse, a doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said this type of Internet search analysis "can help researchers across the field of mental health generate additional new [theories] while exploring other trends inexpensively in real-time."

Althouse added in the news release, "For instance, moving forward, we can explore daily patterns in mental health information-seeking . . . maybe even finding a 'Monday effect.' The potential is limitless."

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Mental Health has more about mental illnesses and health.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Journal of Preventive Medicine, news release, April 9, 2013

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