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:
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."
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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