I don’t really know what to make of this, but I occasionally trawl Google Search Trends/Insights to see what people are looking for, and whether they’re changing much over the past few years.
This seems to me to be as good an indicator of things as anything else.
I did it back in 2005 with Web 2.0, the tsunami,the economic crisis and seinfeld and tina fey.
But how about this one: the rise and fall of the search for “commit suicide painlessly”: things had been pretty flat since 2004 and then suddenly, over a period of three or four months from October 2008 to March 2009, the index goes from about 18 to 100:
It’s not good to read too much into Google Insights for Search, but I reckon there’s some interesting stuff in here. For one thing, the spike is a real one. That’s no blip.
(I should point out that these figures are relative. What Google does is to take the highest point—the largest volume of searches for that term since they started saving data in 2004, and then work out the volume in relation to that.)
Secondly, by mid April things on a global scale return, more or less, to where they had been in August 2008, before the crisis hit:
But if you look at individual countries, the picture is more complex:
In the U.S., where the search term rose from a relatively low base (actually it shows up as zero, meaning not enough data) it rises to 100, and then falls back by April to around 20. Only in the past few weeks does it seem to have returned to where it was to start with:
Look at the UK, by comparison, and we’re not there yet: From zero it rose—a week or so earlier, apparently to 100 by January, and then dropped, but only to around 40. It’s now around 35:
In other words, if one could take this data literally, the British are still very depressed and are still likely to be exploring ways of committing suicide. That’s pretty scary.
By the way, if you take these figures and compare them with the official UK statistics [PDF], they don’t tell you a lot. Brits have been killing themselves less since the late 1990s (though without figures from 2008 until now):
This pretty much dovetails with the Google results, 2004-9
PS I should point out that I used the term above because, having searched for “how to commit suicide” on the Google Trends page, I noticed that “commit suicide painlessly” was a popular search, rising 190%. Confusingly, “how to commit suicide” has, as a search been trending downward since 2004:
PPS Google’s nonprofit arm does use its data for this kind of thing, at least in the area of flu. It now carries data on Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and the U.S.: