Exponential growth in number of people searching online about death during the coronavirus pandemic

Exponential growth in number of people searching online about death during the coronavirus pandemic

Massive growth in numbers of people searching online about death during the pandemic, with interest increasing 3-fold since the end of January.

Massive growth in the number of people searching about death during the COVID-19 pandemic

Published: 21st May 2020

We all have questions about death. In the last couple of months, people have been turning to ‘Google’ in their droves to try to find the answers to some of their questions. In fact for the past 15 years, there has been an increasing number of people searching online for the term ‘death’. During the pandemic this has skyrocketed, with interest increasing 3-fold since the end of January and peaking in March (explore the figures via Google here).

What this means

Some people might be looking for the coronavirus ‘death’ rates, others might have pressing questions which they are finding hard to express openly with friends or family members.

Dr Jo Elverson of St Oswald’s hospice, Newcastle, says:

“We don’t know what people are actually looking for when they search for ‘death’ online. I imagine a lot will be looking at the COVID-19 death tolls. But, I guess for me, the most important question is whether people who want to know more about death and dying are finding the responses to their searches helpful and hopeful.”

Dr Amy Gadoud, Consultant at Trinity Hospice and Blackpool Teaching Hospitals says:

“As a palliative care consultant and a senior lecturer at Lancaster University, I am constantly beating the drum with my colleagues in other specialities about the importance of breaking open the D word. We run seminars on advance care planning and how to have the conversations about death and dying. These stats hopefully indicate that people are beginning to have the conversations or at least have them in mind.”

Previously we didn’t talk about death so much but to do so now is normal

In the latest Art of Dying Well podcast, Dr Kathryn Mannix, renowned palliative care physician and author of ‘With the End in Mind’, says:

“I don’t know whether you’ve noticed it we didn’t use to say dying, death and dead and now suddenly they are normal words in the newspapers and on the media. We used to be embarrassed about the ‘D’ word” and some might say that the stigma is now fading.”

Retired hospital and hospice chaplain and consultant to the Art of Dying Well, Dr Lynn Basset says:

“When the reality of death is in our families, in our communities and in the media, as it has been this year, it is not surprising that we are all drawn to contemplate our own mortality – or worse, fearing the possibility of the death of someone we love. When a loved one dies, it is not unusual to begin to make plans for our own death and our own funeral. When a loved one dies, it is not unusual to fear that other people we care for will also be taken from us.”

More of our population are bereaved

“We are in a situation where more of our population are bereaved at one time, and with the potential for complicated bereavement, than any time in recent history, possibly since World War II. Ironically, as we celebrate the anniversary of VE day, comparisons are being made.”

Lynn has been involved in weekly webinars offering advice for SVP telephone befrienders during the pandemic, and speaks of the importance of this support both in and out of lockdown:

“NHS volunteers, charities, churches and community organisations are recruiting telephone befrienders to keep in touch and to listen to those who are on their own and need to talk. Inevitably, in many of these conversations, death – the D word – will come up.”

Death is on our minds

She goes on to say:

“I tend to have conversations with older, isolated people. It is clear that death is on their minds, but it seems to be not so much death that they fear as concerns about how they might live out their last days. One said, ‘I’m not afraid to die, but I am afraid of not being able to manage on my own any more.’ Others are wondering if they will ever taste the good things of life again; simple pleasures like meeting friends or going out on the bus..”

Keep listening

She advises that it is important to keep listening when the subject of death comes up:

“It is so easy to brush it off, to turn back to lighter topics because this conversation may be painful to hear. We may be worried about the other person becoming upset or of leaving them in a low mood. But, when others introduce the subject of death, keep listening because it may be really important for them to talk. Encourage them to say more, to offload what is one their mind and even to explore their own thoughts and concerns at a deeper level in the safe space of a compassionate listener. This may be just what is needed and the best you can do for them.”

Read our updated guide to Deathbed Etiquette and the coronavirus (COVID-19).

If you’d like to hear more from Dr Kathryn Mannix please listen to our podcast: Episode 18: Dying, Recovering and Caring during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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