Just a couple minutes of pandemic news can ruin your mood – dpa international


Queue outside a phone shop in Malaysia after the end of one of the country's pandemic lockdowns (Simon Roughneen)

Queue outside a phone shop in Malaysia after the end of one of the country’s pandemic lockdowns (Simon Roughneen)

Some countries have seemingly seen the worst of the coronavirus and have lifted many lockdown restrictions, and yet pandemic news can still “ruin a person’s mood” in just minutes, according to British and Canadian researchers.

In a paper published in PLOS One, a medical journal, academics from the University of Essex and Simon Fraser University reported so-called “doomscrolling” through pandemic news shared on social media to be “one of the least enjoyable activities in a day.”

That’s hardly a surprise, given that such stories have been a seemingly relentless drumbeat of daily case numbers and deaths, as well as updates about “government regulations and lifestyle restrictions.”

But even related stories about issues such as hospital bed shortages, cuts to medical treatment and supply-chain jams, such as those that have forced car makers to cut production in recent weeks, also cause negative mental health effects.

To get around concerns about “reverse causality” – that people with poorer mental health or who already feel anxious are more likely to seek out more negative news – the team presented pandemic updates via Twitter and Youtube to around 1,200 survey participants.

“Consumption of just 2–4 minutes of Covid-related news” prompted “immediate and significant reductions in positive affect and optimism,” they said, after reviewing the responses.

The researchers cautioned that the participants were “primarily young white and female participants,” which they said limited the extent to which the results could be generalised.

All the same, the findings broadly tallied with other research on the impact of the pandemic on mental health, the team said, pointing to studies showing that average levels of anxiety and depression have increased since the start of the pandemic.

Estimates published earlier in October by The Lancet, another medical journal, suggested that around 160 million more people suffered mental health problems in 2020 compared to the year before.

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