Mental Health

A year of healing - here’s what our Google searches can teach us about 2021

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Mental health was a key topic of discussion in 2021. Image: UNSPLASH/Štefan Štefančík

Kayleigh Bateman
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Mental Health

  • 2021’s most-searched included themes of reflection, healing and pulling together.
  • Global searches for mental health reached the highest level ever.
  • How to cure burnout was a breakout US search, meaning it increased at least 5,000% compared with the prior time period.
  • Several mental health-related queries reached record levels.
  • Climate change remained firmly on the agenda while a viral “mittens” meme almost broke the internet.

Mental health, healing and pulling together were key themes of 2021, according to the world’s most popular search engine.

Google processes billions of requests every day and its Year in Search data reveals some of the top questions, moments and individuals of 2021.

The snapshot illuminates just how the COVID-19 pandemic has infiltrated all aspects of our lives, after "coronavirus" was a top search term in 2020.

Even so, the world remains optimistic with notable searches including: “how to heal”, “how to stay strong”, “how to make a comeback”, “how to be resilient” and “how to be hopeful”.

a chart showing that in 2021, searches related to mental health soared in the US.
In 2021 searches related to mental health soared in the US. Image: Google Trends

Places we wanted to help

In 2021 people wanted to show their compassion towards two war-torn areas as “how to help Palestine” became a breakout search worldwide in May, meaning it increased at least 5,000%. That was followed by “how to help Afghanistan” in August.

Extreme weather affected the Lone Star State in February, which caused a huge volume of searches for “how to help Texas”. An earthquake followed by Tropical Storm Grace boosted the search term “how to help Haiti” in August.


Kindness shines through

People also found ways to show kindness to others locally. “Vaccination volunteer” was the top trending volunteer opportunity searched worldwide and “how to help your community” grew in popularity, as people looked for ways to offer their help to the global vaccination programme.

Furthermore, the search term “when is nurses week” was at an all-time high in 2021, as people showed their appreciation for medical workers.

Mental health and self-healing

The pandemic hasn’t just affected front-line social care and medical staff, but also those who lost loved ones, spent time in hospital, navigated changes in their working lives or experienced increased unpredictability at home. "How to maintain mental health" saw more searches this year than ever before, as well as "how to recover from burnout".

Keeping negativity at bay was crucial to many as the term “doomscrolling” became a popular search in January. Doomscrolling is spending excessive time looking at negative news, which can have a harmful effect on mental health.

Recognizing that the face of work has changed, and employee wellbeing and mental health is more critical than ever, the World Economic Forum actively supports international bodies in their efforts to bolster practices in the workplace. The Forum’s platform aims to promote the work of organizations such as the World Health Organization and the Wellcome Trust through content that highlights best practices for mental health awareness.

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Better lifestyles

The year's biggest search terms not only reveal the effect that COVID-19 has had on our mental health, but also the ripples of change it has sent throughout our lives.

An abrupt shift to people working from home caused city dwellers to start packing up and moving out to fulfil their dreams of rural life in 2020, according to data from Rightmove. This trend continued into 2021 with the search terms “how to move with kids”, “how to move with pets” and “how to move with plants” reaching record numbers worldwide.

The quest to find the right work-life balance has also caused many people to leave their jobs. The phenomenon called “The Great Resignation” may prompt companies to re-evaluate how to retain talent, however, the working world has other ideas as the term “how to start a business” saw more searches than “how to get a job” in 2021.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

Climate change

The world searched “impact of climate change” more than ever before, along with questions in the UK like “is climate change caused by humans?” and “how does eating less meat help climate change?”


LGBTQ positivity

After voting to legalize same-sex marriage in September, Switzerland showed the most interest in the topic worldwide this year. Worldwide searches for the term “pride events near me” also increased by more than 5000% in 2021.

And there were light hearted moments as well.

Searches for “mittens” reached a global high in January after Senator Bernie Sanders was photographed wearing the knitted gloves at the US 2021 presidential inauguration.

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Mental HealthCOVID-19
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