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Search trends offer many insights

Maybe I’m just procrastinating, but I think I may have stumbled across something pretty cool.  I was browsing the blogs this morning and came across a very interesting article on the Mothershandbook blog and noticed that the author does a weekly column on the history of motherhood.  The post inspired me to try to think of something similar I can write about on a weekly basis.  The question was what topic?

I have a variety of interests and so far my blog entries have covered a weird variety of topics.  I’m sure I won’t get many repeat visitors from what I’ve talked about thus far, as I really haven’t developed a niche.  I thought at least having a weekly column on the same topic might help me out.  Of course, I also need help on my writing style – which kinda sucks.  I figure that might get better with time.  And if not, well, I’ll just keep writing articles no one reads.

I thought about a few topics, but then felt that I wanted to pick a topic that people find interesting.  I thought a good way to help come up with topics would be to look at Google Trends (specifically Google Insights for search) to see what topics people are searching.

I started trying to search for all search terms and it won’t provide that information (although I did later find out I can see the most popular searches over time if I limit to a geographic area like the US – it turns out the top terms aren’t really anything I want to blog about, but did remind me of an idea Mrs. F had for a website that I eventually should try to set-up).  I then limited the search to the US and decided to select a category.  I first selected the category “Health” – as being a doctor I figure I may be able to add some interesting perspective on some of the health topics.  Looking at the top 10 search terms, none was particularly of interest to me – the topics were basically cancer, heart disease, diet and nutrition, and diabetes, as well as insurance and drugs.  Psychopharmacology might be interesting and I’m sure some of my topics will cover psychiatric drugs.

I figured I’d see if there is a better category within my interests . I saw there was a mental health category and what caught my eye weren’t the topics but the graph of the trend over time (If these images don’t look right, please leave a comment so I can find a better way to insert the examples).  Here’s a graph of mental health searches over time:


As you can see, every year there is a significant decrease in the summer . The part that interested me, though, was the TWO peaks each year in spring and fall.  I’m aware of Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I always thought it was a disease of the winter months.  I have heard anecdotal reports of increased mania in the spring, but I don’t recall seeing any research to support the idea (which doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, it’s just that I’m not too familiar with the seasonal variations of mental illness).

Using Google Insights for Search, you can narrow down the trends by specific searches as well as geographic areas.  I hope to do a separate blog entry when I have more time specifically on some of the other trends at which I looked.  I did check out differences between depression, anxiety, autism, bipolar, and sociopathy to see if there were similar trends with each disease, as there are a variety of causes for this bimodal distribution of mental health searches.  I also looked at the trends in southern hemisphere countries to see if the trend is reversed.  As it is bimodal, I quickly realized it isn’t so easy to tell if the trend is reversed.  It did seem to show that there was the opposite time of year of biggest drop from mid year to the end/beginning of the year.  Again – in another blog post I’ll import the images to make it easier to understand.  I’m still not that great of a writer.

I did a quick search to see if anyone else has reported on a bimodal distribution in mental health and it is actually known to others, as nicely summarized in this article on Seasonal Affective Disorder Epidemiology (even if it is a bit dated).

As to the purpose of this post, however, I then became curious if anyone else has used Google Trends to make scientific discoveries.  It seems some people have, such as this interesting post on the decreasing trends of alternative medicine approaches, which does mention the tracking of flu outbreaks using Google.

So, what have I learned?

  1. I’m good at procrastinating (and I need to go see my patients)
  2. Mental health searches have a bimodal peak in spring and fall and a decrease in summer and winter – which I think warrants further investigation and I intend to when I have real time to spend, which probably won’t happen too soon
  3. Other people have recognized that Google Insight for Search has interesting uses for science
  4. I probably haven’t discovered anything new, but like to think I did as it sort of justifies the extent of my procrastination

2 thoughts on “Search trends offer many insights”

  1. Freud and hysteria are coming up. But it’s a complex topic that takes a serious amount of work, so I keep putting it off. What does that say about my personality?

  2. yes, scientific researches based on google trends indeed have attracted some scholars, there’s a paper about using google trends to forecast the flu outbreaks in ‘Nature’
    and now I’m ready to do this kind of research based on Google trends

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