Investigating the relationship of COVID-19 related stress and media consumption with schizotypy, depression, and anxiety in cross-sectional surveys repeated throughout the pandemic in Germany and the UK.


BACKGROUND: Studies report a strong impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and related stressors on the mental well-being of the general population. In this paper, we investigated whether COVID-19 related concerns and social adversity affected schizotypal traits, anxiety, and depression using structural equational modelling. In mediation analyses, we furthermore explored whether these associations were mediated by healthy (sleep and physical exercise) or unhealthy behaviours (drug and alcohol consumption, excessive media use). METHODS: We assessed schizotypy, depression, and anxiety as well as healthy and unhealthy behaviours and a wide range of sociodemographic scores using online surveys from residents of Germany and the United Kingdom over 1 year during the COVID-19 pandemic. Four independent samples were collected (April/May 2020: N=781, September/October 2020: N=498, January/February 2021: N=544, May 2021: N=486). The degree of schizotypy was measured using the Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire (SPQ), anxiety, and depression symptoms were surveyed with the Symptom Checklist (SCL-27), and healthy and unhealthy behaviours were assessed with the Coronavirus Health Impact Survey (CRISIS). Structural equation models were used to consider the influence of COVID-19 related concerns and social adversity on depressive and anxiety-related symptoms and schizotypal traits in relation to certain healthy (sleep and exercise) and unhealthy behaviours (alcohol and drug consumption, excessive media use). RESULTS: The results revealed that COVID-19 related life concerns were significantly associated with schizotypy in the September/October 2020 and May 2021 surveys, with anxiety in the September/October 2020, January/February 2021, and May 2021 surveys, and with depressive symptoms in all surveys. Social adversity significantly affected the expression of schizotypal traits and depressive and anxiety symptoms in all four surveys. Importantly, we found that excessive media consumption (>4 hr per day) fully mediated the relationship between COVID-19 related life concerns and schizotypal traits in the January/February 2021 survey. Furthermore, several of the surveys showed that excessive media consumption was associated with increased depressive and anxiety-related symptoms in people burdened by COVID-19 related life. CONCLUSIONS: The ongoing uncertainties of the pandemic and the restrictions on social life have a strong impact on mental well-being and especially the expression of schizotypal traits. The negative impact is further boosted by excessive media consumption, which is especially critical for people with high schizotypal traits. FUNDING: FK received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 (Grant number 754,462). SN received funding from the Cundill Centre for Child and Youth Depression at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Canada and the Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund from the University of Cambridge.