Conspiracy theories have never been more abundant. And now, researchers have found a link between believing conspiracy theories and experiencing higher levels of depression and anxiety.
Researchers at the Medial University of Silesia surveyed individuals who believe COVID conspiracy theories — such as COVID tests being unreliable or a “plandemic” — to determine what makes someone prone to believing such conspiracies.
“These polls show that tens of millions of people are open to belief in some level of conspiracy as a result of the Covid epidemic,” Dr. Paweł Dębski, the study’s lead researcher, said in a press release. “Our work now shows for the first time that these people are more at risk of more serious anxiety or depression symptoms than the rest of the population. And as the WHO has indicated, false beliefs may also put the rest of the population at risk.”
The team was able to formulate a new way to measure COVID conspiracy theories, which they call the “COVID-19 Conspiratorial Beliefs Scale.” They used this method in conjunction with other scales, including the “Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale,” to determine any overlap between believing falsehoods and mental health.
“We see that the severity of anxiety can be increased in those who express a belief in conspiracy theories,” Debski said. “There is a very significant increase in the severity of depression symptoms.”
While there is definitely a connection, the team is still working to understand if belief in conspiracy theories causes higher levels of anxiety and depression or vice versa.
“At this stage, we are unable to say whether a belief in conspiracy theories cause more anxiety and depression, or whether people who are more anxious and depressed are more attracted to these theories,” Debski said.
The research found that up to a quarter of Americans believe at least one COVID-related conspiracy. And it’s not just U.S. citizens falling for these theories. Between 30 to 40 percent of Western Europeans believe their local governments either took advantage of the pandemic to create stricter laws or are working with pharmaceutical companies to hide vaccine side-effects.
Studies have shown that White evangelicals are most likely to believe conspiracy theories. Groups like QAnon create false information that their followers rapidly spread online through social media.
“Social media has been important in compensating for the lack of personal contact, but the wider use of digital media may also have helped spread misinformation more rapidly, and to amplify harmful messages,” independent researcher and Chair of the European Psychiatric Association section on Digital Psychiatry, Umberto Volpe said. “This ‘Infodemic’ may be generally stressful, as well as causing people to doubt public health messages, but, as this study highlights, it may pose also an additional mental health risk for those who are more prone to false beliefs.”