Journal of Mental Health and Aging

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Research Article - Journal of Mental Health and Aging (2023) Volume 7, Issue 2

COVID-19 related media consumption and mental health in older adults

Background: At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, media consumption rose dramatically as people worked to stay informed and connected during lockdowns. However, though media may have provided respite from social isolation, previous research links media consumption with worse mental health outcomes. Therefore, our objective was to examine whether non-social (e.g. television news, radio) and social media consumption during COVID-19 impacted anxiety and depression symptoms relative to before the pandemic onset.

Methods: We conducted an anonymous, cross sectional survey in May-June 2020. Participants (n=1,168, 73.2 years, 56.8% women, 94.9% white) were asked to estimate their time spent consuming pandemic related media and to report on anxiety and depressive symptoms before and after the pandemic began. We calculated change scores for anxiety and depression by summing scores from individual items asking about change during the pandemic.

Results: Respondents with high pandemic related media consumption (>3 hrs) were more likely to have increased anxiety symptoms compared to those with low (<1 hr) media consumption (OR:1.57, 95% CI:1.09-2.23). Similarly, respondents with increased social media consumption during the pandemic were 64% more likely to report depressive symptoms than those who did not use social media. Interestingly, those who reduced their social media use were 45% less likely to have depressive symptoms and 26% less likely to have anxiety symptoms than those who never used social media.

Conclusion: Older adults consuming more pandemic related media had increased anxiety symptoms compared to those with less consumption. Increased social media consumption was associated with elevated depressive symptoms. The potential benefits of media consumption may be countered by unintended negative consequences on mental health; future research should provide recommendations for optimizing media consumption.

Author(s): Erta Cenko1*, Emily J Smail2, Christopher N Kaufmann2, Torie Livingston Adam Wolach3, Todd M Manini3

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