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Search Trends for Mental Disorders

Are there only the winter blues, or are there other seasonal disorders?

While many fall prey to the winter blues, search trends show that other mental disorders seem to ebb and flow with the other yearly seasons. Google searches have been able to lend much information to the health field, using search terms to document everything from outbreaks of infection to undocumented medication side-effects.[1] Knowing this, University of California researchers, led by John Ayers, decided to look through the searches for patterns of mental illness.1

Mental DisordersSeasons do affect disorders.

The study of disorders used all of Google’s search trends from the United States and Australia during the period of 2006 to 2010.1 The seasons are opposite in these two countries; therefore, finding opposing patterns would suggest that the seasons were truly important regarding search queries.1 In general, the researchers found that mental health searches were more prevalent in the winter by 14 percent in the United States and 11 percent in Australia.1

The timing of certain queries were quite similar for both countries. For example, for both the United States and Australia searches regarding “eating disorders,” “anorexia,” and “bulimia” increased during the winter months.1 Americans were 37 percent more likely to search for those terms in the winter, while Australians were 42 percent more likely.1 Also common in winter searches were the terms “schizophrenia”: thirty-seven percent more in the United States and 36 percent more in Australia.1 ADHD was also found to be seasonal to the winter months, as well as anxiety.1

Some easy treatments for seasonal disorders.

Researchers believe that understanding how mental illnesses change with the seasons will allow for more effective preventative measures to be developed.1 Historically, the shorter amount of daylight hours and social isolation that generally comes with winter weather may explain some of the difficulties people who struggle with mental illnesses undergo during the colder months.1 For example, researchers believe that increasing social interaction and supplementing vitamin D, the vitamin of sunlight, may help to alleviate some symptoms.1

Overall, monitoring web searches can help the health field grow the amount of information they have access to and help to study the seasonality of many mental disorders.1


[1] Szalavitz, M. (2013, April 10). Google Searches Reveal Seasonal Trends in Mental Illnesses. TIME.com. Retrieved April 16, 2013, from http://healthland.time.com/2013/04/10/google-searches-reveal-seasonal-trends-in-mental-illnesses/

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