Seasons and mental illness linked

Researchers from the US have used Google searches to find a strong link between the seasons and mental illness.

Doctors and scientists have typically struggled to follow mental illness patterns, with unreliable telephone surveys often used. Researchers find it difficult to get participants to open up over the phone.

John W Ayers and colleagues from the Graduate School of Public Health at San Diego State University launched a study of their own, centred on Google’s public database of questions. They also found and tracked mental health questions in Australia and the US from 2006 to 2010.

Researchers recorded all questions related to mental health and pigeon-holed them according to type, with categories including depression, eating disorders and bipolar factors.

Ayers said: “The internet is a game changer. By passively monitoring how individuals search online we can figuratively look inside the heads of searchers to understand population mental health patterns.”

He and his team identified patterns by using mathematical techniques. They discovered all mental health searches in both countries were noticeably higher in winter than in more pleasant months.