Media and mental health

Excessive media consumption may exacerbate the harmful mental health effects of pandemic-related stress.

Consuming too much media may have exacerbated the harmful mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Image credit: Robbe Jensens (CC BY 2.0)

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, and the measures different governments took to contain it, harmed many people’s mental well-being. The restrictions, combined with pandemic-related uncertainty, caused many individuals to experience increased stress, depression, and anxiety. Many people turned to unhealthy behaviours to cope, including consuming more alcohol or drugs, using media excessively, developing poor sleeping habits, or reducing the amount of exercise they did.

Stress, drugs, poor sleep, and uncertainty can increase an individual’s risk of developing psychotic symptoms, including delusions, hallucinations, or difficulty thinking clearly. These symptoms may be temporary or part of a more lasting condition, like schizophrenia. The risk of developing these symptoms increases in people with ‘schizotypal traits’, such as a lack of close relationships, paranoia, or unusual or implausible beliefs. These individuals may be especially vulnerable to the harmful mental health effects of the pandemic.

Daimer et al. demonstrated that people who were more worried about their life stability or financial situation during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic had worse mental well-being than those who felt secure. In the experiments, volunteers completed a series of online mental health questionnaires at four different time points during the pandemic. People who reported feeling lonely, having negative thoughts, or experiencing fewer positive social interactions had more symptoms of mental illness. People who experienced more life disruptions also reported more anxiety or depression symptoms and more schizotypal traits. Daily consumption of at least four hours of digital media exacerbated negative mental health symptoms, and people with more pandemic-related life concerns also spent more time on digital media

Daimer et al. suggest that increased media consumption among people with pandemic-related hardships may have increased mental health symptoms and schizotypal traits in these individuals. The survey results suggest that maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including meaningful relationships, is essential to staying mentally healthy during extreme situations like a global pandemic. Protective interventions – such as strengthening social support networks, providing mental health education, or increasing mental healthcare provisions – are essential to prevent poor mental health outcomes during future crises.