Historically, suicide rates usually fall in the immediate aftermath of national disasters (9/11, the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak) then surge months later.
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.