|Abstract (english)|| |
The global epidemic of (mis)information, spreading rapidly via social media platforms and other outlets, can be a risk factor for the development of anxiety disorders among vulnerable individuals. Cyberchondria can be a vulnerability factor for developing anxiety in a pandemic situation, particularly when the Internet is flooded with (mis)information. The aim of our study was to examine how cyberchondria is related to changes in levels of COVID-19 concern and safety behaviours among persons living in Croatia during the period in which the first COVID-19 case was identified and when the country recorded its first fatality. Repeated cross-sectional data collection was conducted during two waves over a period of three weeks (N1 = 888; N2 = 966). The first began on the day of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Croatia (February 24th, 2020) and the second wave began three weeks later, on the day the first COVID-19 fatality was recorded in Croatia (March 19th, 2020). Participants completed an online questionnaire regarding various COVID-19 concerns and safety behaviours aimed at disease prevention (information seeking, avoidance and hygiene) and a measure of cyberchondria (Short Cyberchondria Scale, SCS). We analysed whether changes to the epidemiological situation during the period between the two waves of data collection led to an increase in COVID-19 related behaviour directly and indirectly via an increase in COVID-19 concerns. The results indicated that, between the two waves of research, there was a pronounced increase in concerns regarding COVID-19 (b = 1.11, p < .001) as well as significant behavioural changes (b = 1.18–2.34, p < .001). Also, results demonstrated that cyberchondria plays a moderating role in these changes. In the first wave, persons with severe cyberchondria were already intensely concerned with safety behaviours. High cyberchondria and high levels of concern about the COVID-19 are associated with intense avoidance behaviours, R2 = .63, p < .001. A moderated partial mediation model was confirmed, in which the effect of the epidemiological situation was weaker for those with higher results on the SCS (as indicated by index of moderated mediation between -.10 and -.15, p < .05). As such, cyberchondria is a contributing factor to long-term anxiety and its impact during pandemic on the general mental health burden should therefore be further investigated.