Study: Conflicting Information Linked to Mental Health Issues During COVID-19

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Key Insights

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has had profound effects on well-being around the world.
  • A new study reveals more information about how healthcare professionals can intervene to prevent symptoms from worsening.
  • This new evidence suggests there are certain areas of the care continuum where healthcare professionals can intervene. 

Study: Media Coverage of Pandemic May Affect Mental Health

A recent study reveals more information about media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on patient mental health. The American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) surveyed health information to identify any patterns in those who exhibited “pandemic-specific acute stress and depressive symptoms” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and whether these patients had any pain points in common.

The study’s findings identified three primary stressors that the patients shared, the first being “pre-existing mental and physical health diagnoses.” A “history of pre-pandemic psychiatric diagnoses” was the “strongest predictor of depressive symptoms.” The second and third stressors included “job and/or wage loss,” and “exposure to pandemic-related media coverage.”

The study highlighted the media as a specific source of anxiety among patients. It found that the “strongest predictors of pandemic-specific acute stress symptoms” were frequent “exposure to conflicting information in the news media.” The study noted that “young individuals reported higher acute stress and depressive symptoms than older respondents, suggesting that despite being most deadly for older populations at the time of our data collection, the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath have had widespread impacts across populations.”

Social Media, Misinformation, and the Pandemic

Aside from “poor risk communication” that could potentially expose others to the COVID-19 virus, conflicting information in the media can lead to other serious health problems: “acute stress has been associated with subsequent cardiovascular illness in large population-based studies, even when respondents’ exposure to collective stress was primarily through the media.”

People who regularly check social media for health news are at a greater risk for misinformation because the platforms enable information to spread quickly. Those who use social media to look for health information are more likely to promote “conspiracy theories that undermine engagement in health behaviors,” and further exacerbate the risk of acute depressive symptoms “by increasing users’ negative affect.”

The Impact on Physicians

The media’s display of accurate information in a timely manner is “critical for promoting resilience through effective communication,” and must engage in “early interventions targeting public health and well-being during this unprecedented health crisis” to prevent further acute symptoms of depression and anxiety among patients.

Primary care physicians, clinicians, and other healthcare professionals can serve as one of the main lines of defense against incorrect and conflicting information that may cause anxiety in patients. According to a Gallup survey, “85% of Americans rate nurses as having high levels of honesty and ethics,” which may indicate that getting nurses on board with correct information can also help patients sort out misinformation.

One way providers can foster trust and engagement with patients is through digital thought leadership. Providers can establish themselves as thought leaders by posting helpful information and sharing health-related content on social media. 

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