From the Journals

‘Doomscrolling’ may be a significant driver of poor mental health


 

FROM HEALTH COMMUNICATION

Increased distress

Commenting on the study, Steven R. Thorp, PhD, ABPP, a professor at California School of Professional Psychology, Alliant International University, San Diego, said that he and his colleagues have noticed an increase in clients reporting distress about news consumption.

The survey by Dr. McLaughlin and colleagues “appears to be representative and has sufficient statistical power to address the issues,” said Dr. Thorp, who was not involved with the research.

“However, as the researchers note, it is a cross-sectional and correlational survey. So it’s possible that, as implied, people who ‘doomscroll’ are more likely to have physical and mental health problems that interfere with their functioning,” he added.

It is also possible that individuals with physical and mental health problems are more likely to be isolated and have restricted activities, thus leading to greater news consumption, Dr. Thorp noted. Alternatively, there could be an independent link between health and news consumption.

Most news is “sensational and not representative,” Dr. Thorp pointed out.

For example, “we are far more likely to hear about deaths from terrorist attacks or plane crashes than from heart attacks, though deaths from heart attacks are far more common,” he said.

“News also tends to be negative, rather than uplifting, and most news is not directly relevant to a person’s day-to-day functioning. Thus, for most people, the consumption of news may have more downsides than upsides,” Dr. Thorp added.

Still, many people want to stay informed about national and international events. So rather than following a “cold turkey” or abstinence model of stopping all news consumption, individuals could consider a “harm reduction” model of reducing time spent consuming news, Dr. Thorp noted.

Another thing to consider is the news source. “Some outlets and social media sites are designed to instill outrage, fear, or anger and to increase polarization, while others have been shown to provide balanced and less sensational coverage,” Dr. Thorp said.

“I also think it’s a good idea for providers to regularly ask about news consumption, along with learning about other daily activities that may enhance or diminish mental and physical health,” he added.

The research had no specific funding. Dr. McLaughlin and Dr. Thorp have reported no relevant financial relationships.

A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.

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