COVID-19 conspiracies and mental health

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Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy

Those who believe in COVID-19 conspiracies may be at risk for depression.

People who believe in conspiracies about the COVID-19 pandemic are at an increased risk of experiencing anxiety and depression, according to new research presented at the European Congress of Psychiatry and published in Frontiers in Psychiatry.

The research was based on survey results of 700 volunteers who answered a newly created COVID-19 Conspiratorial Beliefs Scale developed by researchers at several Polish universities. Participants also took the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale survey, as well as the Generic Conspiracist Beliefs Scale (covering topics such as aliens from other planets) to compare results.

The main COVID-19 conspiracy theories believed by participants were that SARS-CoV-2 tests were unreliable; governments deliberately spread false information about COVID-19, and vitamins and minerals supplementation could cure COVID-19 infections.

The researchers found belief in COVID-19 conspiracies was higher in those who believe in other conspiracies, and belief in COVID-19 conspiracies was correlated with increased levels of anxiety and depression. It was unclear, however, if anxiety and depression caused someone to believe in conspiracies, or whether conspiracy belief led to mental health problems.

“The tendency to believe in false convictions regarding COVID-19 may be detrimental to our psychological functioning as it is associated with increased symptoms of anxiety and depression,” the authors concluded.

In a European Psychiatric Association press release, lead study author Paweł Debski, MD, of the Medical University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland, said, “COVID has only struck us in the last couple of years, and developing the tools to evaluate the mental health effects takes time.… Our next steps are to see whether beliefs are related to specific psychological traits, and whether any pro-health messages can help.”

Jun 6 Front Psychiatry study
Jun 6 European Psychiatric Association
press release