Search terms implied that people are 24 percent less likely to consider suicide in the summer, among other seasonal fluctuations that may be useful in epidemiology for illnesses that are difficult to track.
LINDSAY ABRAMS APR 9 2013, 8:21 AM ET
PROBLEM: Google overhyped the flu this year, which seemed to be a blow to the company’s claim that it can track disease in real-time. Not to mention, the CDC was doing a fine job monitoring the virus’s spread without the help of Google’s search-based analysis. Traditional epidemiological surveillance techniques are less reliable, though, when it comes to mental illness, which remains complex and stigmatized enough that there’s reason to believe people may be more comfortable consulting the Internet than their doctors.
METHODOLOGY: Public health experts at San Diego State looked at every mental health query made on Google between 2006 and 2010 in the U.S. and Australia. They identified searches that used “language suggestive of mental health matters,” which usually involved people either attempting to self-diagnose or treat themselves, or looking up information on behalf of a friend or family member.
The researchers specifically analyzed this data in terms of seasonal changes: shorter, darker days are known to increase symptoms of depression, but little is known about possible patterns for other mental illnesses. They adjusted for big news stories, to avoid the effects of media hype like that which caused Google to suggest that the flu was more widespread than it actually was.
RESULTS: In the U.S., inquiries about mental health dropped by 14 percent from winter to summer. The seasonal differences, for major mental illnesses, were as follows:
- Eating disorders: 37%
- Schizophrenia: 37%
- Bipolar: 16%
- ADHD: 28%
- OCD: 18%
- Suicide: 24%
- Anxiety: 7%
Similar drops were seen in the Australian dataset. In fact, peaks and troughs in search volume between the two countries closely reflected one another — while Americans enjoyed the decline in mental illness that appeared to come with lengthening days and warmer weather, the Australian winter signaled a rise in the very same:
IMPLICATIONS: “We can figuratively look inside the heads of searchers to understand population mental health patterns” by analyzing Google searches, said lead researcher John Ayers in a statement. There are obvious limits to this supposed omniscience: it doesn’t allow us to zero in on any specific demographics, and even if more people were searching for “OCD symptoms,” “OCD tests,” and “medications for OCD,” there’s no way of confirming that those the trends correspond to actual, diagnosable cases of OCD. The data also doesn’t help us to understand why these seasonal patterns exist. But it’s the very least, as the authors write, “a stigma- and cost-reducing venue to help screen and treat those who search for but may not bring problems to the attention of their clinicians.”
“Seasonality in Seeking Mental Health Information on Google” is published inThe American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
source: The AtlanticRead more
Security fences and metal detectors will not end violence in schools because such violence is often inbred, a study on the issue revealed on Wednesday.
“Schools in some provinces are putting up security fences and security lighting… to try and stop people from coming into schools… It is not going to be enough,” executive director of the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP), Patrick Burton, said in Johannesburg.
“One of the key factors is that… classrooms are the primary site where most of the violence occurs… Violence is usually perpetrated by a classmate.”
He was speaking at the release of the centre’s study on violence in South African schools conducted in the 12 months between August 2011 and August 2012. The centre first conducted the study in 2008.
The study found one in five secondary school pupils had experienced some form of violence at school.
A total of 121 high schools across the country were randomly selected and 5939 children, 121 principals and 239 teachers were surveyed. The study focused on four specific types of violence — threats of violence, assault, sexual assault, and robbery.
Director of the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria, Prof Ann Skelton, said pupils were entitled to feel safe at schools.
“We need to ensure that our classrooms are safe… it can only be done once the person in charge takes responsibility,” Skelton said.
She said a United Nations Children’s Fund study showed violence in a society contributed to violence in schools.
Burton said government should find a solution for crime prevention. A national framework was needed to give pupils a voice to say where at school they felt unsafe and to provide a reporting mechanism.
Random searches should be conducted in schools, Burton said.
“Somebody has to take responsibility for what is happening in schools.”
Schools should be embedded within a community because children exposed to violence were more likely to become violent, Burton said.
source: Times LIVE / Sapa