When in doubt, Google it: distress-related information seeking in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Background: Psychological health has been one of the aspects affected by the recent COVID-19 pandemic. We aim to evaluate the patterns of Google search for mental distress symptoms of Italian citizens during the various phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods: We assessed Google searches for psychological-health related words. We gathered and analyzed data on daily search queries on depression, anxiety, and insomnia from Google Trends, in a time ranging from the Pre-COVID phase (beginning 25th January 2020) up to the second wave phase (ending 17th October 2020). We performed three general linear models on search trends of the three words and tested whether and to what extent official data about new cases of COVID-19, information searching on new cases, and the government health measures impacted on these trends. Results: Average daily search queries were higher for anxiety, followed by depression and insomnia. General linear models performed to assess differences in daily search queries for anxiety, depression and insomnia were significant, respectively [F(13, 253) = 6.80, P <.001]; [F(13, 253) = 10.25, P <.001]; [F(13, 253) = 6.61, P <.001]. Specifically, daily search queries differed among different phases of managing the COVID-19 outbreak: anxiety [F(5, 253) = 10.35, P <.001, np2 =.17]; depression [F(5, 253) = 13.59, P <.001, np2 =.21]; insomnia [F(5, 253) = 3.52, P =.004, np2 =.07]. Conclusions: Our study contributed to the investigation of online information-seeking behaviors of Italians regarding mental health throughout the entire phase of the pandemic and provides insights on the possible future trends of mental distress during upcoming pandemic phases.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1902
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Anxiety
  • COVID-19
  • Depression
  • Google
  • Infodemiology
  • Insomnia
  • Psychological distress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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