Even though the economy is showing some signs of recovery, America’s psychological state is still in the slumps, if what we’re searching for on Google is any indication.
Building off of data results originally published last year in the Journal of Affective Disorders, San Diego State University researchers observed mental health trends using Google searches for the last six months. They found that searches related to psychological distress were at the same level as 2009 when the recession was at its worst, and remain higher than pre-recession.
Credit: San Diego State University
The initial study was based on 2004 to 2010 data from Google’s public database of search information, called Google Insights for Search. In that study, the researchers looked for indicators of psychological distress, such as lots of searches for things like “depression symptoms” or “signs of anxiety.” During that time frame, researchers found as many as a million psychological distress-related Google searches, of which 300,000 were potentially linked to the bad economy.
“In mental health we recognize the effects of trauma can last years, recessions may be similar,” James Rosenquist, a Harvard psychiatrist and economist who did not work on the study, said in a statement. “Does an 18-month recession mean five years of poor mental health? It certainly looks that way.”
As the Wall Street Journal notes, correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation, and it’s possible that a common factor — like insolvency — underlies both the rise in regional foreclosures observed in the study and the rise in hospitalization rates for stress-related ailments in those same regions.
But if foreclosure rates can be taken as even a loose barometer of health concerns, it’s likely that the spate of stress-related medical consequences will get worse before it gets better.