New York: In a major study, researchers have found that the excessive use of social media for COVID-19 health information is related to both depression and secondary trauma.
"We found that social media use was rewarding up to a point, as it provided informational, emotional and peer support related to COVID-19 health topics," said study author Bu Zhong from the Penn State University in the US.
"However, excessive use of social media led to mental health issues," Zhong added.
The study, published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour, included 320 participants living in urban districts of Wuhan, China.
In February 2020, the team gave the participants an online survey that investigated how they accessed and shared health information with family members, friends and colleagues on social media, specifically WeChat, China's most popular social media mobile app.
The team used an instrument created to measure Facebook addiction to assess participants' use of WeChat.
Using a 5-point Likert-type scale, ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree, the survey assessed participants' views of WeChat in providing them with informational, emotional and peer support.
The survey also assessed participants' health behaviour changes as a result of using social media.
The survey also investigated participants' health behaviour changes related to the use of WeChat, asking them to rate statements such as, "The health information on WeChat has changed many of my health behaviours, such as but not limited to wearing face masks, using sanitizer, or washing hands."
To assess depression, the researchers used a 21-item Depression Anxiety Stress Scale in which participants rated statements such as, "I couldn't seem to experience any positive feeling at all," and "I felt that life was meaningless."
"We found that the Wuhan residents obtained tremendous informational and peer support but slightly less emotional support when they accessed and shared health information about COVID-on WeChat," said Zhong.
More than half of the respondents reported some level of depression, with nearly 20 per cent of them suffering moderate or severe depression.
Among the respondents who reported secondary trauma, the majority reported a low (80 per cent) level of trauma, while fewer reported moderate (13 per cent) and high (7 per cent) levels of trauma.
None of the participants reported having any depressive or traumatic disorders before the survey was conducted.
"Our results show that social media usage was related to both depression and secondary trauma during the early part of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan," said Zhong.
"The findings suggest that taking a social media break from time to time may help to improve people's mental well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic.