Better mental health linked to avoiding news of COVID-19: study
TORONTO – A series of studies led by Dutch researchers found that avoiding news during the pandemic correlated with better mental well-being among participants in the Netherlands.
The results of the studies were described in the article “News Avoidance during the Covid-19 Crisis: Understanding Information Overload”, published in the newspaper Digital journalism back in August.
In the first study, researchers conducted online panel surveys in the Netherlands among 1,635 participants. Researchers asked participants if they thought the news of COVID-19 was making them helpless, emotionally charged, information overloaded and negatively affecting their mental well-being.
Participants asked the same questions at three different intervals during the first four months of the pandemic. The first wave of the investigation was carried out in April 2020, three weeks after the initial lockdown in the Netherlands. The second wave took place in May 2020, after the reopening of primary schools. In June, when public buildings and restaurants reopened, researchers completed the third wave.
At the same time, the researchers conducted a second study involving 1,742 different participants. Participants were asked if they have avoided more news or consumed more information since the start of the pandemic. Additionally, the researchers asked participants how often they felt nervous, calm, gloomy, and happy over the previous four weeks. Just like the first study, the participants of the second study were also asked about the same question at three different time periods.
Researchers found that there was a positive correlation with information avoidance and mental well-being. People who avoided the news more were more likely to see their general well-being improve.
“This finding shows that those who opt for information avoidance to protect their mental well-being might be making the right choice,” the authors wrote.
At the start of the pandemic, participants said they had increased their consumption of information and also turned to a wider variety of information sources. However, as the pandemic continued, news avoidance began to increase.
Feelings of helplessness as well as information overload were cited as the most common reasons for avoiding news. Plus, young adults were more likely to avoid the news, the researchers found.
“When people feel emotionally charged, have lost confidence in the media, feel the need to ignore the news, and feel overwhelmed, they avoid the news more in the following period,” the authors wrote.
Studies are not without limits, however. The data only covered the first four months of the pandemic and cannot speak to developments in news avoidance and mental health. Moreover, the study only focused on one country, the Netherlands, which had fewer COVID-19 lockdown measures compared to many of its European neighbors and compared to other countries.
Nonetheless, the researchers say the findings could provide insight into how a wave of pandemic-related information is affecting mental health and why people might choose to avoid consuming the information.
“These results indicate a balance of action for individual information consumers. In a pandemic such as COVID-19, information consumers need to be informed, but sometimes it is necessary to avoid information to stay healthy. mental, ”the authors wrote.
Similar studies published recently also revealed that news of COVID-19 can have negative emotional consequences. Additionally, more Canadians are reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression amid the pandemic than ever before.