The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic may be having a widespread effect on people’s mental health, according to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.The COVID-19 pandemic has caused more than 800,000 deaths worldwide and there has been over 23.4 million confirmed cases, according to the World Health Organization. The pandemic has led to widespread shutdowns and social distancing measures, with schools and businesses closed, and a subsequent spike in unemployment.
The study authors analyzed Google search queries that mentioned “panic attack” or “anxiety attack” from the United States between January 2004 and May 9, 2020. Examples of the queries they used are “am I having a panic attack” and “signs of an anxiety attack.”
The study authors chose to look at anxiety attacks because they are indicative of, or can often lead to, other mental health problems, such as depression. Anxiety attacks are also triggered by outside stressors and are socially contagious. The study authors then evaluated trends after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on March 13, 2020.
The largest growth in queries occurred between March 16, 2020, and April 14, 2020, with a cumulative increase of 17%, according to the study. This increase coincided with the release of national social distancing guidelines on March 16 and their extension on March 29.
Additionally, the study authors found that searches for anxiety attacks coincided with the United States surpassing certain international benchmarks, such as surpassing China in most reported cases on March 26 and surpassing Italy for most deaths on April 11. An increase was also seen when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended facemasks on April 3.
“In practical terms, over the first 58 days of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were an estimated 3.4 million total searches related to severe acute anxiety in the United States…In fact, searches for anxiety and panic attacks were the highest they’ve ever been in over 16 years of historical search data,” Benjamin Althouse, PhD, principal scientist at the Institute for Disease Modeling, said in the press release.
The researchers said that it may take years to fully deal with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, resources should be made available to those who need it the most, the study authors concluded.
Am I having a panic attack? Internet searches for anxiety attacks take off during COVID-19 (Press Release), La Jolla, CA. August 24, 2020, EurekAlert! Accessed August 25, 2020