Tracking search engine queries for suicide in the United Kingdom, 2004–2013

V. S. Arora, D. Stuckler, M. McKee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations

Abstract

Objectives First, to determine if a cyclical trend is observed for search activity of suicide and three common suicide risk factors in the United Kingdom: depression, unemployment, and marital strain. Second, to test the validity of suicide search data as a potential marker of suicide risk by evaluating whether web searches for suicide associate with suicide rates among those of different ages and genders in the United Kingdom. Study design Cross-sectional. Methods Search engine data was obtained from Google Trends, a publicly available repository of information of trends and patterns of user searches on Google. The following phrases were entered into Google Trends to analyse relative search volume for suicide, depression, job loss, and divorce, respectively: ‘suicide’; ‘depression + depressed + hopeless’; ‘unemployed + lost job’; ‘divorce’. Spearman's rank correlation coefficient was employed to test bivariate associations between suicide search activity and official suicide rates from the Office of National Statistics (ONS). Results Cyclical trends were observed in search activity for suicide and depression-related search activity, with peaks in autumn and winter months, and a trough in summer months. A positive, non-significant association was found between suicide-related search activity and suicide rates in the general working-age population (15–64 years) (ρ = 0.164; P = 0.652). This association is stronger in younger age groups, particularly for those 25–34 years of age (ρ = 0.848; P = 0.002). Conclusions We give credence to a link between search activity for suicide and suicide rates in the United Kingdom from 2004 to 2013 for high risk sub-populations (i.e. male youth and young professionals). There remains a need for further research on how Google Trends can be used in other areas of disease surveillance and for work to provide greater geographical precision, as well as research on ways of mitigating the risk of internet use leading to suicide ideation in youth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)147-153
Number of pages7
JournalPublic Health
Volume137
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Google trends
  • Mental health
  • Population health
  • Social media
  • Suicide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'Tracking search engine queries for suicide in the United Kingdom, 2004–2013'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this