A report published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity suggests that exposure to COVID-19-related information in the media is linked to poor psychological health. The findings further suggest that these mental health risks have to do with the volume of information consumed, rather than the quality of that information.
Since the initial outbreaks of the novel coronavirus more than a year ago, information related to COVID-19 has dominated media headlines. Study authors Jagdish Khubchandani and his team say that it remains uncertain how this endless cascade of coronavirus-related information has affected public health.
To explore this question, researchers distributed an online questionnaire to over 1,800 Americans. Respondents were asked to indicate how concerned they were about the quantity of COVID-19 related information in the media, with the options of “not concerned at all”, “slightly concerned”, “concerned”, or “very concerned”. They were also asked to indicate how concerned they were about the quality of information related to COVID-19, where quality referred to the truthfulness, reliability, and accuracy of the information. The survey additionally included the Patient Health Questionnaire-4, which measured symptoms of anxiety and depression.
The results suggested that participants were most concerned about the quality of coronavirus-related information, with 64% saying they were either concerned or very concerned, 28% saying they were slightly concerned, and only 8% saying they were not concerned at all. By contrast, 49% were concerned or very concerned about the quantity of information about the coronavirus, 32% were slightly concerned, and 19% were not concerned at all.
Interestingly, when the researchers conducted a linear regression analysis to compare the two types of concern with respondents’ psychological symptoms, only concern over the quantity of information about COVID-19 appeared to have a detrimental effect on participants’ mental health. Those who were either concerned or very concerned about the quantity of such information were more likely to have symptoms of depression, anxiety, or both. By contrast, feeling either concerned or very concerned about the quality of coronavirus information was not associated with the likelihood of presenting with symptoms of depression or anxiety.
When the study authors looked at the demographic data, participants who felt greater concern for the quantity of COVID-19 information tended to be those who were younger, belonged to a racial or ethnic minority group, earned a lower income, had a lower education, were married, had children at home, or lived in an urban area. Khubchandani and colleagues point out that members of these groups were likely exposed to a greater number of socioeconomic hardships during the pandemic, as previous studies would suggest.
The researchers say their findings shed light on possible strategies to help mitigate the psychological impact of excessive exposure to COVID-19 related information in the media. Aside from engaging in exercise, practicing stress-reducing techniques like mindfulness, and getting good sleep, the authors suggest limiting how often you consume media, decreasing the number of sources you consult, and relying on trustworthy scientific sources of information.
The study, “COVID-19 related information and psychological distress: Too much or too bad?” was authored by Jagdish Khubchandani, Sushil Sharma, Michael J. Wiblishauser, James H. Price, and Fern J. Webb.