Background: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Czech population experienced a second lockdown lasting for about half a year, restricting free movement and imposing social isolation. However, it is not known whether the impact of this long lockdown resulted in habituation to the adverse situation or in the traumatization of the Czech population, and whether the media and specific media use contributed to these effects.

Objective: The aim of this study was to elucidate the effect of the long lockdown on the mental health of the Czech population, and the role of exposure to COVID-19 news reports and specific forms of media news use in mental health.

Methods: We conducted two consecutive surveys in the early (November 2020) and late (March/April 2021) phases of the nationwide lockdown on the same nationally representative group of Czech adults (N=1777) participating in a longitudinal panel study.

Results: Our findings showed that the self-reported symptoms of anxiety and depression increased in the second observation period, confirming the negative effect of the pandemic lockdown as it unfolded, suggesting that restrictive measures and continuous exposure to a collective stressor did not result in the strengthening of resilience but rather in ongoing traumatization. The results also suggest a negative role of the media’s coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic in mental health during the early, and particularly late, phases of the lockdown. Furthermore, we found several risk and protective factors of specific media news use. The media practice in news consumption connected to social media use was the strongest predictor of exacerbated mental health symptoms, particularly in the late phase of the lockdown. Moreover, news media use characterized by internalization of information learned from the news, as well as negative attitudes toward media news, were associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression. Conversely, the use of infotainment, together with an in-depth and contextual style of reading news articles, were related to improvement of mental health.

Conclusions: Our study showed that the long lockdown resulted in traumatization rather than habituation, and in more pronounced effects (both negative and positive) of media use in mental health.

Original research
JMIR Mental Health