When it comes to mental health, what are we searching for?
You know that exhaustion you’re feeling — the one that no amount of espresso shots or power naps can remedy? Well, it turns out you’re not alone.
Last month in the U.S. we saw spikes in fatigue-related Google searches, and the question “why do I feel bad?” reached a record high. There’s a collective feeling of exhaustion, and we’re all looking for ways to cope with it. Over the past year, we’ve seen an increase in searches related to meditation, virtual therapy, walking and digital detoxes.
Since this week marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month in the U.S., we chatted with two of Google’s experts on the topic: Dr. David Feinberg, a psychiatrist by training and head of Google Health, and Dr. Jessica DiVento, a licensed clinical psychologist and the Chief Mental Health Advisor for YouTube. David and Jessica talk about why we’re feeling this way and what we can do about it.
What’s going on with our collective wellbeing at this moment in time?
Jessica: Our body’s threat detection system is working in overdrive. We’re constantly making sense of what’s happening so we know what’s causing us stress and can react to it. People don’t realize how much mental energy that takes. Even though you might not be doing much physically, it makes sense to feel fatigued.
In the U.S., more people are getting vaccinated and guidelines are changing. Adjusting to this new routine takes a lot of cognitive processing.
David: It's a hard transition. Our bodies are good at achieving homeostasis. I’ve become comfortable working from home, eating outside and socializing within my pod — these are abnormal things that I’ve incorporated as normal. In parts of the world, you’re telling me to go back to my old ways. Things that used to require minimal thinking — like meeting a friend for dinner — now require so much processing.
How do you expect people’s emotions to change over the coming months?
David: Fear is when you open the door and a bear is there. Anxiety is when there’s no bear and you don’t know why you’re feeling that way. We’ve been in a constant state of both with the pandemic. Already, I’ve felt a bit of these heavy feelings lift. When I got my first shot of the vaccine at CVS I felt some of the anxiety and fear I was carrying release — it was almost a spiritual experience.
This is a dramatic life experience. It will be part of our narrative and change how we respond to things. When a vase falls and it breaks, you glue it back together. When it falls again it usually breaks in the same spot. When there are triggers — like seeing spikes in India — it brings back emotions from this collective trauma.
Jessica: As a global society, there’s a long way to go. Some of us going through the reconstruction phase will ask, “Why am I not feeling better yet?” Transitioning out of this will take time.
What have you both done to maintain your own mental health?
Jessica: We know all the things to do to minimize stress and anxiety: eat well, exercise, sleep and so on. We also know what doesn’t help. For me, that’s the overconsumption of technology. Digital wellbeing features, like Pixel’s Flip to Shhh and app timers, help me stop scrolling so I can be more present.
David: I’ve focused on my sleep. Dreams are a way to consolidate new information. I’ve measured my sleep with my Fitbit smartwatch and now with Sleep Sensing on my new Nest Hub, and have learned that eating or working out late at night negatively affects my sleep. So I’ve made adjustments.
As more people search for ways to cope, what are Google and YouTube doing to help?
David: Part of coping with anxiety is researching and taking action on the things you can control. I love seeing Google connect people to actionable information through things like our mental health self-assessments, information on vaccination and testing locations, and authoritative data about things like symptoms and guidelines to stay safe.
Jessica: The rise in searches for mental health content shows that it’s becoming okay to say that you’re not okay. The more conversations we spark and the more places we share content about mental health, the less stigma there will be. At YouTube, we work closely with experts in the mental health space to make sure there are credible and engaging videos out there. When someone searches specifically for anxiety or depression resources, we’ll show information about symptoms, treatment resources and self-assessments. And for searches that may indicate someone in crisis, we’re committed to connecting them with free 24/7 crisis support resources. Also, Fitbit recently teamed up with Deepak Chopra to create an exclusive wellness collection for its Premium members, making it easier for them to create a mindfulness practice. Things like that help make sure anyone can take care of their mental health and wellbeing. I hope that lives on past this moment.
What questions do you hope the world is searching for in the next six months?
Jessica: I think we’ll see people searching for ways they can help others — looking at careers in counseling and epidemiology — and how they can keep leaning into wellbeing.
David: I hope people are searching “Am I in love?” and “Why do I feel great?”