COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories Associated With Depression

Summary: People who believe conspiracies about COVD-19, including vitamins can cure coronavirus, or that governments are using the virus and vaccines to control the population, are more prone to developing depression and anxiety.

Source: European Psychiatric Association

The Global COVID-19 pandemic has been marked by a significant minority of people expressing conspiratorial beliefs. Now a new study has shown that these beliefs may be harmful, especially to those who are prone to anxiety and depression.

This work is presented at the European Congress of Psychiatry, with simultaneous peer-reviewed publication.

Surveys have shown that huge numbers of people are open to conspiratorial beliefs about COVID-19. Survey in the US found that around a quarter of Americans believe that the outbreak was “intentionally planned by powerful people”.

In major European counties (Germany, France, Italy and the UK), between 30% and 40% of people believe that the government is taking the chance to control citizens, or working with the pharmaceutical industry to conceal vaccine effects. 

“These polls show that tens of millions of people are open to belief in some level of conspiracy as a result of the COVID pandemic,” said lead researcher Dr Paweł Dębski (Medical University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland).

“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 research group, from several Polish Universities, recruited nearly 700 volunteers (585 female, 110 male, 5 other, average age 24.8) and asked them about their beliefs. They developed and validated a new way of measuring belief in COVID-19 conspiracy theories, the COVID-19 Conspiratorial Beliefs Scale.

The researchers used this in conjunction with other questionnaires such as the Generic Conspiracist Beliefs Scale (which measures how much one believes in general conspiracy theories, such as major international decisions being taken a secret group, or covering up evidence of aliens), and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (which measured the level of anxiety and depression).

Combining the analysis enabled them to see how belief in COVID conspiracies is higher in those who believe in other conspiracies, and also to correlate belief in COVID conspiracies with levels of anxiety and depression.

Dr Debski continued, “We see that the severity of anxiety can be increased in those who express a belief in conspiracy theories. However there is a very significant increase in the severity of depression symptoms.

“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”.

The COVID-19 Conspiratorial Beliefs Scale suggests a series of 10 scenarios and asks the volunteers to rate their belief from 1-5. The most widely believed COVID-19 conspiracy theories (in order of belief) were:

  1. SARS-CoV-2 tests are unreliable, they may be positive in the case of infection with another virus (with 3.114 out of a possible 5 points maximum)
  2. Governments deliberately spread false information about COVID-19 in order to conceal the actual state of the pandemic (3.034 out of 5)
  3. Vitamins and minerals supplementation can cure SARS-CoV-2 infection (2.616 out of 5)

Pawel Dębski said, “This is a fast moving field. COVID has only struck us in the last couple of years, and developing the tools to evaluate the mental health effects takes time. Our recruitment was via the internet, and we need to develop better recruitment methods. Our next steps are to see whether beliefs are related to specific psychological traits, and whether any pro-health messages can help”.

This shows a woman looking at a laptop. She is wearing a facemask
In major European counties (Germany, France, Italy and the UK), between 30% and 40% of people believe that government is taking the chance to control citizens, or working with the pharmaceutical industry to conceal vaccine effects. Image is in the public domain

Commenting, Professor Umberto Volpe (Università Politecnica delle Marche, Ancona, Italy), Chair of the European Psychiatric Association section on Digital Psychiatry said:

“Conspiracy theories and misinformation during infectious outbreaks are nothing new, as they have always proliferated in the history of human epidemics. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the exponential growth of digitalization and social media has made new ‘virtual spaces’ available.

“Social media have 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.

“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”.

About this depression and conspiracy theories research news

Author: Tom Parkhill
Source: European Psychiatric Association
Contact: Tom Parkhill – European Psychiatric Association
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: The findings will be presented at the European Congress of Psychiatry

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  1. I know one of these people, but think it’s a chicken/egg thing. She’s bipolar and pulled to conspiracy theories. Observing those she hangs with, they all have mental issues and gravitate toward covid conspiracy theories (along with many others).
    I sense CSs are a diversion so they can ignore reality, which tends to result in them getting hit upside the head w/reality and not see it coming. Four people (two women, ages 68, 60, and two adult kids) seem to have gotten covid – the one I’ve known (who’s a retired vet/stocked with ivermectin) didn’t think she had it because her lungs aren’t affected.. I said omicron doesn’t hit lungs hard as did Delta/others. She just said “OH”.. she doesn’t know basics because she ignores anything unless Bannon, “Dr.” Malone, et al say it.
    I was indoors with her maybe an hour, 8 to 10 feet apart maybe five days after she felt sick, so will see if I get it. I’m 65 and boosted (6 mos ago) but that’s not supposed to help much w/omicron. Curious if I’ll be ‘super immune’ as some say happens to breakthroughs, though not sure if with Omicron. One way or another, we’re all lab rats in the covid gig.

  2. Here we go. Woke pseudo science. Declaring something is “unsafe” (subjective) posing as science so as to squelch questioning. Not questioning anything in science is propaganda Not science. Still, I enjoy a lot of the information from this site. Thank you.

    1. As soon as you use the term “woke”, it means your opinion is irrelevant outside of MAGAtistan.

  3. Same thing the USSR did: labeled anyone who did not embrace the “truths” of the System’s ideology as mentally ill.

  4. This study is almost laughable.
    First off, it frames people who are skeptical of government as possibly mentally deficient and prone to a handful of conspiracies about the pandemic, which leads to anxiety and depression(Quite a few apparently). But that in itself infers that everything we have been told is 100 percent true and that government and big business have always been forthright and have always operated with morality over profit and control.
    That inference just doesn’t line up with the facts on the ground. As an example,to this day we still have not pinned down the source of the original infection,and China’s refusal to cooperate will ensure that never happens. That in itself is a perfectly valid reason to be skeptical, and any assumption to the contrary completely invalidates these kinds of studies.
    What’s more,in the abscence of concrete proof, all one has to go on is belief, which leads to a wide spectrum of conclusions. This is what religion is based on, so anyone who believes in a higher power would be in the conspiracy group. And in the abscence of proof, it is easy to influence beliefs by throwing out plausible explanations. Our brain naturally desires logical anwers to the unkown, and can run wild if not fed information it can process and reckon with.
    That is Psych 101 right there.
    As far as a correlation between belief and depression goes, it is a no brainer that depression and anxiety would be associated with a belief that we are not being told the truth or any other leaps of faith that comes with that skepticism. And again there is plenty of things to be skeptical about with this pandemic. In the best of times thinking about the whole state of the world and the meaning of life in general can be extremely depressing, and should always be done in small doses.
    In the end this piece tries to force you to either believe the system and be happy,or not,and be miserable.
    My brain hurts just trying to process that level of psychological manipulation.

    1. My experience with those who ‘subscribe’ to conspiracy theories is it’s a crutch for an addiction (e.g. Mike ‘Pillow Guy’ Lindell.. who’s about to “fly the coop”) or coping mechanism for mental illness/dysfunction. The one I know has been an EXTREME pessimist since age 15 (now 68).. very smart, if she applies herself, but very insecure (her mom was an alcoholic narcissist.. two very intelligent siblings committed suicide… one ~20 years after age 55 retirement w/millions of $$.. the other after completing med school because he couldn’t handle interacting w/the public as a resident).
      One angle of conspiracy theorists is looking for a simple answer to a complex issue – it’s easy to say all rulers are psychopaths, or there’s no reason to read anything but right-wing sources, but this results in a CHOICE to be ignorant (which they won’t see), and is a sign of stupidity. They’re easy to play by telling them what they want to hear, which is easy to gauge by their responses on social media (I sense Russia and Trump were well aware of this as they spread divisive propaganda).

      The one thing I will never understand is why they spread covid disinformation when it primarily affected/killed their own people.. final data after Delta’s tour is red states/counties had significantly higher death tolls.. due directly to vax rates, and likely mask wearing. My only thought is they are so miserable that they’re borderline suicidal – most have given up on anything getting better. I suggest (in comments) that they should move to Pakistan or ??? to get some perspective. One more thing – common among them may be little attention from their mothers growing up.. they seem to be starved for attention.

      Ah.. the final point. George Will best describes these self-made, perpetual ‘victims’ of government and society:
      “There seem to be a large number of Americans who are only happy when they’re unhappy. They seem to find life affirmed by being furious all the time. I don’t know why.”

  5. Way to go along with the narrative. You people probably think a vaccine that restructures your dna is harmless and actually stops you from getting the virus

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