The Effect of the Lockdown on Mental Health

According to a new study, the amount of people searching for topics online related to boredom, anxiety and loneliness increased exponentially at the beginning of the first lockdown.

Google Trends data from 10 countries across Europe and the U.S. were examined by experts and they found patterns from which it can be inferred that the lockdown ‘severely affected’ the mental health of people.

They traced the amount of times people searched for terms on Google such as boredom, suicide, panic, divorce and wellbeing.

Compared to the same period in 2019, the amount of searches for ‘boredom’ in Europe during the lockdown in 2020 rose by 93%, ‘worry’ by 27% and ‘loneliness’ by 40%. In America, the amount of searches for ‘boredom’ during the lockdown rose by 57%, ‘worry’ by 12% and ‘loneliness’ by 16%.

The researchers discovered similar results in countries, states or cities that had a full or partial lockdown, which suggests that the restrictions had an impact on their mental wellbeing.

Nick Powdthavee, Professor of Behavioral Science, a specialist in the economics of wellbeing and a co-author of the paper said, ‘Our findings indicate that people’s mental health may have been severely affected by the pandemic and lockdown’.

‘There was a substantial increase in searches for boredom, loneliness and worry. However, we did see a significant drop in searches for suicide, divorce and stress. It may be necessary to make sure support is provided to help those struggling most with lockdown’.

The research was conducted by economists from the University of Ottawa, Warwick Business School, Paris School of Economics and Aix-Marseille. It was published in the paper ‘COVID-19, lockdowns and well-being: Evidence from Google Trends’ in the Journal of Public Economics.

The Google search data analyzed by the researchers originated from Austria, Belgium, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, UK and the U.S. between January 2019 and April 2020.

This enabled them compare how frequently people searched for the 13 key terms before the lockdown started, after the order to stay home and during the same period a year earlier.

Professor Abel Brodeur of the University of Ottawa said, ‘We did see the number of searches for sadness revert towards the norm, perhaps reflecting hopes that lockdown would be relatively short-lived.’

‘However, the effects of boredom and worry have not dissipated over time and this snapshot of wellbeing in the first weeks of lockdown does not account for potential fatigue as individuals grow increasingly tired of self-regulating as time passes’.

‘It is a reminder that while the economic cost of the pandemic and lockdown is considerable, there are other potential costs in terms of trust, disruption to schooling and wellbeing.’

‘That is particularly relevant as many countries are going through a second wave of the pandemic and are facing fresh restrictions.’

By Marvellous Iwendi

Source: wbs