Associations Between Media Exposure and Mental Distress Among U.S. Adults at the Beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Kira E. Riehm, Calliope Holingue, Luther G. Kalb, Daniel Bennett, Arie Kapteyn, Qin Jiang, Cindy B. Veldhuis, Renee M. Johnson, M. Daniele Fallin, Frauke Kreuter, Elizabeth A. Stuart, Johannes Thrul

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Introduction: Exposure to disaster-related media may be a risk factor for mental distress, but this has not been examined in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. This study assesses whether exposure to social and traditional media during the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with mental distress among U.S. adults. Methods: Data came from the Understanding America Study, conducted with a cross-sectional, nationally representative sample of adults who completed surveys online. Participants included 6,329 adults surveyed between March 10 and March 31, 2020. Regression analyses examined the associations of (1) self-reported average time spent on social media in a day (hours) and (2) number of traditional media sources (radio, TV, and newspaper) consulted to learn about COVID-19 with self-reported mental distress (4-item Patient Health Questionnaire). Data were analyzed in April 2020. Results: Participants responding at later survey dates reported more time spent on social media (β=0.02, 95% CI=0.01, 0.03), a greater number of traditional media sources consulted to learn about COVID-19 (β=0.01, 95% CI=0.01, 0.02), and greater mental distress (β=0.07, 95% CI=0.04, 0.09). Increased time spent on social media and consulting a greater number of traditional media sources to learn about COVID-19 were independently associated with increased mental distress, even after adjusting for potential confounders (social media: β=0.14, 95% CI=0.05, 0.23; traditional media: β=0.14, 95% CI=0.08, 0.20). Conclusions: Exposure to a greater number of traditional media sources and more hours on social media was modestly associated with mental distress during the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)630-638
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican journal of preventive medicine
Volume59
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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