From the Journals

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


 

FROM HEALTH COMMUNICATION

“Doomscrolling” or “doomsurfing” the news is fairly common and raises the risk for poor mental as well as poor physical health, new research suggests.

The past 2 years have been filled with worrisome global events, from the pandemic to the war in Ukraine, large-scale protests, mass shootings, and devastating wildfires. The 24-hour media coverage of these events can take a toll on “news addicts” who have an excessive urge to constantly check the news, researchers note.

Results from an online survey of more than 1,000 adults showed that nearly 17% showed signs of “severely problematic” news consumption.

These “doomscrollers” or “doomsurfers” scored high on all five problematic news consumption dimensions: being absorbed in news content, being consumed by thoughts about the news, attempting to alleviate feelings of threat by consuming more news, losing control over news consumption, and having news consumption interfere in daily life.

“We anticipated that a sizable portion of our sample would show signs of problematic news consumption. However, we were surprised to find that 17% of study participants suffer from the most severe level of problematic news consumption,” lead author Bryan McLaughlin, PhD, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, told this news organization. “This is certainly concerning and suggests the problem may be more widespread than we expected,” he said.

Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas Simon Parmley

Dr. Bryan McLaughlin

In addition, 74% of those with severe levels of problematic news consumption reported experiencing mental problems, and 61% reported physical problems.

“It’s important for health care providers to be aware that problematic news consumption may be a significant driver of mental and physical ill-being, especially because a lot of people might be unaware of the negative impact the news is having on their health,” Dr. McLaughlin said.

The findings were published online in Health Communication.

Emotionally invested

The researchers assessed data from an online survey of 1,100 adults (mean age, 40.5 years; 51% women) in the United States who were recruited in August 2021.

Among those surveyed, 27.3% reported “moderately problematic” news consumption, 27.5% reported minimally problematic news consumption, and 28.7% reported no problematic news consumption.

Perhaps not surprisingly, respondents with higher levels of problematic news consumption were significantly more likely to experience mental and physical ill-being than those with lower levels, even after accounting for demographics, personality traits, and overall news use, the researchers note.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of those with severe levels of problematic news consumption reported experiencing mental ill-being “quite a bit” or “very much” – whereas frequent symptoms were only reported by 8% of all other study participants.

In addition, 61% of adults with severe problematic news consumption reported experiencing physical ill-being “quite a bit” or “very much,” compared with only 6.1% for all other study participants.

Dr. McLaughlin noted that one way to combat this problem is to help individuals develop a healthier relationship with the news – and mindfulness training may be one way to accomplish that.

“We have some preliminary evidence that individuals with high levels of mindfulness are much less susceptible to developing higher levels of problematic news consumption,” he said.

“Given this, mindfulness-based training could potentially help problematic news consumers follow the news without becoming so emotionally invested in it. We hope to examine the effectiveness of a mindfulness intervention in our future research,” he added.

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