Google searches for #suicide and suicide risk factors in the early stages of the #COVID-19 pandemic

A novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), which causes the COVID-19 respiratory illness, emerged in December of 2019 and has since spread globally. The dramatic lifestyle changes and stressors associated with this pandemic pose a threat to mental health and have the potential to exacerbate risk factors for suicide.

We used autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) models to assess Google Trends data representing searches in the United States for 18 terms related to suicide and known suicide risk factors following the emergence of COVID-19. Although the relative proportion of Google searches for suicide-related queries was lower than predicted during the early pandemic period, searches for the following queries representative of financial difficulty were dramatically elevated: “I lost my job” (226%; 95%CI, 120%-333%), “laid off” (1164%; 95%CI, 395%-1932%), “unemployment” (1238%; 95%CI, 560%-1915%), and “furlough” (5717%; 95%CI, 2769%-8665%).

Searches for the Disaster Distress Helpline, which was promoted as a source of help for those impacted by COVID-19, were also remarkably elevated (3021%; 95%CI, 873%-5169%). Google searches for other queries representative of help-seeking and general mental health concerns were moderately elevated. It appears that some indices of suicidality have fallen in the United States in this early stage of the pandemic, but that COVID-19 may have caused an increase in suicide risk factors that could yield long-term increases in suicidality and suicide rates.