It turns out that destroying the economy and people’s jobs and outlawing human interaction has a negative effect on the population.
The coronavirus certainly offers no shortage of problems and repercussions in the present, but there’s also no telling just long we’ll all be feeling its effects in the coming years and months. Now, an unsettling new study using Google searches finds that the COVID-19 pandemic may cause a big suicide increase in the future.
Researchers from Columbia University analyzed U.S. Google search history statistics to come to this conclusion. The team focused specifically on searches pertaining to financial hardships, disaster relief, and suicide. That investigation revealed that in March and April of this year Google searches for the first two topics increased dramatically, while suicide-related queries dropped.
Historically, suicide rates usually fall in the immediate aftermath of national disasters (9/11, the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak) before surging months later. This historical precedent, along with previous research showing a connection between financial trouble and increased risk of suicide, is why researchers interpreted the Google search data in this way.
“The scale of the increase in Google searches related to financial distress and disaster relief during the early months of the pandemic was remarkable, so this finding is concerning,” says senior study author Dr. Madelyn Gould, a professor of epidemiology in psychiatry at the university’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, in a release.
Google search trends have long been linked to suicide rates. So when the study’s authors set out to investigate the pandemic’s effects on Americans’ mental health, turning to search engine data was a logical step. An algorithm was used to analyze Google search trends between March 3rd and April 18th of this year. More specifically, researchers were looking for “proportional changes” over that time period for 18 words and phrases related to suicide or suicide risk factors (money problems).
The algorithm detected dramatic search increases for phrases like “I lost my job” and words such as “unemployment” and “furlough.” Searches for the national Disaster Distress Helpline are also on the rise. Meanwhile, depression-related searches show a slight increase, and searches regarding panic attacks are up moderately.
“It seems as though individuals are grappling with the immediate stresses of job loss and isolation and are reaching out to crisis services for help, but the impact on suicidal behavior hasn’t yet manifested,” Dr. Gould says. “Generally, depression can take longer to develop, whereas panic attacks may be a more immediate reaction to job loss and having to deal with emotionally charged events amidst the social isolation of the pandemic.”
Predictably, search terms indicating loneliness also increased for this time period in comparison to the same months in 2019. Dr. Gould knows that social distancing is an important aspect of beating COVID-19; but he also asserts that the practice is clearly taking a mental toll on countless people.
This is what they interpret based on the current data. Imagine what the search results will be like once the government loses the ability to keep the economic collapse in camouflage and everyone realizes that their lives and their country have changed forever.
The ones currently considering suicide or who will soon consider suicide are all younger people who’ve lost their jobs and who cannot meet with family and friends — exactly the group of people who are not at risk of the coronavirus flu.
Old people, the ones at risk, are not going to kill themselves over their lost jobs, because most don’t work anymore. They also won’t kill themselves over their future being destroyed, because they’ve already lived their lives and know that they’re likely to die soon anyway.
But at least they’ll get to live a few more weeks.