COVID-19 blues: Lockdowns and mental health-related google searches in Latin America

Produced by: 
Available from: 
July 2021
Paper author(s): 
Adan Silverio-Murillo
Lauren Hoehn-Velasco
Abel Rodriguez Tirado
Jose Roberto Balmori de la Miyar
Topic: 
Education - Health
Year: 
2021

Rationale

Stress process theory considers that actual and perceived isolation, caused by mobility restrictions from attempted containment of the COVID-19 pandemic, deteriorates mental health.

Objective

We examine the relationship between the COVID-19 lockdowns and mental health-related Google searches in 11 Latin American countries. We include the following countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. We also explore how changes in search patterns relate to income support policies and to COVID-19 death rates.

Method

Using Google Trends data and an event-study design, as well as a difference-in-differences analysis, we investigate the association between country specific stay-at-home orders and internet searches including the following words: insomnia, stress, anxiety, sadness, depression, and suicide.

Results

We find three main patterns. First, searches for insomnia peak but then decline. Second, searches for stress, anxiety, and sadness increase and remain high throughout the lockdown. Third, there is no substantial change in depression-related or suicide-related searches after the lockdown. In terms of potential mechanisms, our results suggest that searches declined for suicide and insomnia following the passage of each country’s income support, while in countries with higher COVID-19-related death rates, searches for insomnia, stress, and anxiety increased by more.

Conclusions

Our results suggest that, in Latin America, Google searches for words associated with mild mental health disorders increased during the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. Nonetheless, these conclusions should not be construed as a general population mental health deterioration, as we cannot verify that search indicators are accurately related to the users’ current feelings and behaviors, and as internet users may not be representative of the population in this region.

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