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The Validity of Google Trends Search Volumes for Behavioral Forecasting of National Suicide Rates in Ireland

Authors: 

Joana Barros, Ruth Melia, Kady Francis, John Bogue, Mary O’Sullivan, Karen Young, Rebecca A. Bernert, Dietrich Rebholz-Schuhmann, Jim Duggan

Publication Type: 
Refereed Original Article
Abstract: 
Annual suicide figures are critical in identifying trends and guiding research, yet challenges arising from significant lags in reporting can delay and complicate real-time interventions. In this paper, we utilized Google Trends search volumes for behavioral forecasting of national suicide rates in Ireland between 2004 and 2015. Official suicide rates are recorded by the Central Statistics Office in Ireland. While similar investigations using Google trends data have been carried out in other jurisdictions (e.g., United Kingdom, United Stated of America), such research had not yet been completed in Ireland. We compiled a collection of suicide- and depression-related search terms suggested by Google Trends and manually sourced from the literature. Monthly search rate terms at different lags were compared with suicide occurrences to determine the degree of correlation. Following two approaches based on vector autoregression and neural network autoregression, we achieved mean absolute error values between 4.14 and 9.61 when incorporating search query data, with the highest performance for the neural network approach. The application of this process to United Kingdom suicide and search query data showed similar results, supporting the benefit of Google Trends, neural network approach, and the applied search terms to forecast suicide risk increase. Overall, the combination of societal data and online behavior provide a good indication of societal risks; building on past research, our improvements led to robust models integrating search query and unemployment data for suicide risk forecasting in Ireland.
Digital Object Identifer (DOI): 
10.3390/ijerph16173201
Publication Status: 
Published
Date Accepted for Publication: 
Tuesday, 27 August, 2019
Publication Date: 
02/09/2019
Journal: 
International Journal for Environmental Research and Public Health
Volume: 
16
Issue: 
17
Research Group: 
Institution: 
National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG)
Open access repository: 
Yes