Social media coverage of war impacts mental wellbeing

Durham University

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An international team of researchers, including members of our Department of Psychology, have established the psychological and mental health impacts of the war on the general public.

The research found a collective, global downturn in people's sense of wellbeing – irrespective of age, gender or political views – during and following the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. Social media coverage of war was also found to be associated with a deterioration in people's wellbeing.

The mental health impacts of war

The study, carried out between late 2021 and summer 2022, explored the moods people experienced day by day in the weeks surrounding the outbreak of war.

It showed measurable collective mental stress larger than after the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima in 2011 and after the Covid lockdown in 2020.

People in Europe demonstrated a significantly lower sense of wellbeing than those in the rest of the world and deterioration in the average level of mental health was observed on days on which the war had a particularly strong presence on social media.

The research team, including Durham's Professor Stefania Paolini and Assistant Professor Patrick Kotzur, also discovered individual personality traits were playing a decisive role in a person's recovery from the shock.

Adding further dimensions to the debate

This unique mental health study, which coincidentally happened to take place in the weeks leading up to and during the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, adds a further dimension to the debate on the humanitarian, political, and economic consequences of the war.

While people's wellbeing was stable before the war broke out, the study demonstrated a collective downturn on the day of the Russian invasion.

The researchers also identified systematic differences in the way people respond to and recover from this kind of shock. People with a more vulnerable and less stable personality had not recovered a month after the beginning of the war.

The study was based on around 45,000 individual surveys completed by 1,300 people from 17 European countries, with over 50 researchers involved.

The study, led by Münster University, Germany, is published in the journal Nature Communications.

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