Pandemic Information Dissemination and Its Associations With the Symptoms of Mental Distress During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Cross-sectional Study
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionJMIR Formative Research. 2021, 5 (12), e28239. https://doi.org/10.2196/28239
Background: The 2020-2021 COVID-19 pandemic has added to the mental health strain on individuals and groups across the world in a variety of ways. Viral mitigation protocols and viral spread affect people on all continents every day, but at widely different degrees. To understand more about the mental health consequences of the pandemic, it is important to investigate whether or how people gather pandemic-related information and how obtaining this information differentially affects individuals. Objective: This study aimed to investigate whether and to what extent higher levels of COVID-19–related media consumption across information sources are associated with the symptoms of anxiety, health anxiety, and depression, and whether and to what extent using social media and online interactive platforms versus traditional media platforms is associated with the symptoms of anxiety, health anxiety, and depression. Additionally, we aimed to investigate whether and to what extent avoidance of COVID-19–related information is associated with the aforementioned symptoms. Methods: In a cross-sectional preregistered survey, 4936 participants responded between June 22 and July 13, 2020. Eligible participants were adults currently residing in Norway and were thus subjected to identical viral mitigation protocols. This sample was representative of the Norwegian population after utilizing an iterative raking algorithm to conduct poststratification. As 2 subgroups (transgender and intersex individuals) were too small to be analyzed, the final sample for descriptive statistics and regressions included 4921 participants. Multiple regressions were used to investigate associations between the symptoms of psychopathology and COVID-19–related information dissemination. Part correlations were calculated as measures of the effect size for each predictor variable. Due to the large anticipated sample size, the preregistered criterion for significance was set at P<.01. Results: The symptoms of anxiety and health anxiety were significantly associated with obtaining information from newspapers (P<.001), social media (P<.001), and the broader categories of online interactive (P<.001) and traditional media (P<.001). The symptoms of depression were significantly associated with obtaining information from newspapers (P=.003), social media (P=.009), and the broader category of online interactive media (P<.001). Additionally, avoidance of COVID-19–related information showed a significant association in all 3 domains of psychopathological symptoms (anxiety and depression, P<.001; health anxiety, P=.007). Conclusions: This study found significant associations between the symptoms of psychopathology and the use of media for obtaining information related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Significant findings for obtaining information through newspapers, social media, and online interactive media were seen across all 3 measures of psychopathology. Avoidance of COVID-19–related information and associations with the symptoms of psychopathology emerged as core findings, with generally higher effect sizes compared with information attainment.