Fake news in time of pandemic cause anxiety, depression – MSU professor

Published October 23, 2020, 7:46 AM

by Philippine News Agency

CAGAYAN DE ORO – People exposed to fake news online during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic were found to have experienced anxiety and depression, a result of a phenomenon called “information traps”, a researcher based in Iligan City said Thursday.

A survey on mental health, conducted by a group of researchers earlier this year and led by Dr. Imelu Mordeno, professor of Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT), found that people exposed to fake information were likely to be psychologically-distressed once caught in a loophole in truth-finding called “information traps”.

“Information traps” is an individual’s activity in seeking details to have a sense of meaning in the messy experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Mordeno, who is also a clinical psychologist.

Based on the study’s preliminary findings, Mordeno said she and her team discovered that around 25 to 34 percent of the 7,000 respondents suffered from depression, and around 25 to 31 percent reeled from generalized anxiety.

Around 40 to 60 percent of the respondents were also found to be psychologically distressed, meaning one out of two individuals was prone to common mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and trauma because of pandemic-related situations, Mordeno said.

“Most of the time, information–especially those that are not credible, such as fake news–will trigger anxiety and will enhance psychological distress. Once distressed, they will look for other information, and it will become cyclical to a point where mental health disorder will become more severe,” said Mordeno.

To improve one’s mental health during the pandemic in which movement and physical interactions would be limited, Mordeno advised the public to “maintain communication, even virtually to a certain group that you are comfortable with.”

“This includes your family and your friends for social support and information validity while encountering a lot of stress relating to the pandemic,” she added.

Mordeno warned that poor sleep quality is a gateway to all other mental health disorders, and that individuals must “go back to the basic things” such as eating healthy food regularly, sleeping well, and engaging in a conversation.

Meanwhile, Iligan City’s emergency operations center (EOC) has opened its “Kumusta Ka” hotline where callers could talk about their struggles to mental health experts, as part of the local government’s COVID-19 pandemic’s psychosocial support service.

Ed Krishna Alivio, Iligan’s health education public officer, said callers who need counseling will be referred to the MSU-IIT psychological response team “for a deeper and more focused conversation.”

The hotline only received five phone calls since the start of its operation earlier this month, she said, adding that most of the issues shared by callers pertain to lack of sleep, irritability, and relationship problems.