Lockdown impact, as per Google

Searches for stress and therapy spiked as people grappled with loneliness and the uncertainties around life and work. Job searches have also surged

Pooja Dantewadia
Updated27 Apr 2020
Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

How have Indians been coping with the lockdown over the past few weeks? Are they more anxious than peers elsewhere? Are they more or less worried about jobs?

To find answers, we, like most Indians on the net, turned to Google. Data from Google Trends give a fair sense of what is on top of people’s minds, and are increasingly being used by social scientists to gauge real time trends.

The Google Trends data suggests that stress levels in India skyrocketed during the lockdown, with search levels for stress exceeding that of several other countries which were under lockdown over the past few weeks. And along with stress, searches for therapy also have risen in the country.

Data from other sources also suggest a rise in anxiety and mental health problems during the lockdown. A recent survey by the Indian Psychiatric Society suggests a 20% rise in cases related to mental illnesses because of uncertainties relating to issues such as finance, work, health, and stress in relationships.

Searches for therapy have been relatively higher in Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Mizoram, and Puducherry during the lockdown period, Google Trends data show. Such searches have been relatively lower in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan.

Searches for suicides have been relatively low. On March 29, reports about Germany's finance minister, Thomas Schaefer, committing suicide had led to a spike for the search term ‘suicide’ but other than that, searches have been low.

Job-related searches have been relatively high in India compared to other countries. Data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) suggests a sharp spike in joblessness immediately after the lockdown came into effect. The urban unemployment rate went up sharply and remains elevated, and many of those without jobs, or with precarious jobs, may have been searching intensely for jobs online over the past few weeks.

For those who still have a job and were supposed to report virtually, finding tools to connect with their workplaces became the key challenge. Search interest for applications such as Zoom that allows people to connect with their teams spiked up immediately after the lockdown. Searches for Zoom were relatively higher for countries such as Germany and Italy, compared to developing countries under lockdown such as Indonesia, South Africa, and India over the past few weeks.

The lockdown also meant more time for people with long commutes. And with time on their hands, most netizens in India turned to experimenting with various recipes, with searches for recipes rising faster in India than in many other countries. Searches for recipes eclipsed those for workouts or online classes in the country, with highest search interest in Goa, Daman & Diu, and Karnataka.

Searches for YouTube videos also went up over the past few weeks, with Indians searching for YouTube relatively more than in other countries. In comparison, searches for Netflix and Amazon Prime were relatively muted in the country.

Overall, the dependence on the net may have only gone up during the lockdown and the push towards greater digitization may have got another fillip from covid-19.

Immediately after the lockdown was announced to contain the contagion, searches for ‘internet shutdown’ started rising as people worried about losing one of the few windows to the outside world. As the panic subsided, people turned to the net to search for both things they loved and things they worried about, the data from Google Trends suggest.

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