Utilizing Big Data from Google Trends to Map Population Depression in the United States: Exploratory Infodemiology Study

Alex Wang, Robert M McCarron, Daniel Azzam, Annamarie Stehli, Glen Xiong, Jeremy DeMartini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: The epidemiology of mental health disorders has important theoretical and practical implications for health care service and planning. The recent increase in big data storage and subsequent development of analytical tools suggest that mining search databases may yield important trends on mental health, which can be used to support existing population health studies. Objective: This study aimed to map depression search intent in the United States based on internet-based mental health queries. Methods: Weekly data on mental health searches were extracted from Google Trends for an 11-year period (2010-2021) and separated by US state for the following terms: “feeling sad,” “depressed,” “depression,” “empty,” “insomnia,” “fatigue,” “guilty,” “feeling guilty,” and “suicide.” Multivariable regression models were created based on geographic and environmental factors and normalized to the following control terms: “sports,” “news,” “google,” “youtube,” “facebook,” and “netflix.” Heat maps of population depression were generated based on search intent. Results: Depression search intent grew 67% from January 2010 to March 2021. Depression search intent showed significant seasonal patterns with peak intensity during winter (adjusted P<.001) and early spring months (adjusted P<.001), relative to summer months. Geographic location correlated with depression search intent with states in the Northeast (adjusted P=.01) having higher search intent than states in the South. Conclusions: The trends extrapolated from Google Trends successfully correlate with known risk factors for depression, such as seasonality and increasing latitude. These findings suggest that Google Trends may be a valid novel epidemiological tool to map depression prevalence in the United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere35253
JournalJMIR Mental Health
Volume9
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2022

Keywords

  • big data
  • depression
  • epidemiology
  • google trends
  • internet
  • mental health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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