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      A three-wave network analysis of COVID-19's impact on schizotypal traits, paranoia and mental health through loneliness

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            Background The 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted people’s mental wellbeing. Studies to date have examined the prevalence of mental health symptoms (anxiety, depression, loneliness), yet fewer longitudinal studies have compared across background factors and other psychological variables to identify vulnerable sub-groups. This study tests to what extent higher levels of psychotic-like experiences – indexed by schizotypal traits and paranoia – are associated with various mental health variables 6- and 12-months since April 2020.

            Methods Over 2,300 adult volunteers (18-89 years, female=74.9%) with access to the study link online were recruited from the UK, USA, Greece, and Italy. Self-reported levels of schizotypy, paranoia, anxiety, depression, aggression, loneliness, and stress from three timepoints (17 April to 13 July 2020, N 1 =1,599; 17 October to 31 January 2021, N 2 =774; and 17 April to 31 July 2021, N 3 =586) were mapped using network analysis and compared across time and background variables (sex, age, income, country).

            Results Schizotypal traits and paranoia were positively associated with poorer mental health through loneliness, with no effect of age, sex, income levels, countries, and timepoints. Loneliness was the most influential variable across all networks, despite overall reductions in levels of loneliness, schizotypy, paranoia, and aggression during the easing of lockdown. Individuals with higher levels of schizotypal traits/paranoia reported poorer mental health outcomes than individuals in the low-trait groups.

            Conclusion Schizotypal traits and paranoia are associated with poor mental health outcomes through self-perceived loneliness, suggesting that increasing social/community cohesion may improve individuals’ mental wellbeing in the long run.


            Author and article information

            UCL Open: Environment Preprint
            UCL Press
            2 September 2021
            [1 ] Department of Psychology and Human Development, University College London, London UK
            [2 ] Neuropsychology and Applied Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, CAS Key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing China; Department of Psychology, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing China
            [3 ] Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science, University of Trento, Rovereto Italy; Psychology Program, School of Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
            [4 ] Departments of Criminology, Psychiatry, and Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia USA
            Author notes
            Author information

            This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

            : 2 September 2021
            UCL Global Engagement Fund 563920.100.177785

            The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available in the repository: http://www.doi.org/10.5522/04/16583861
            Psychology,Social & Behavioral Sciences
            Network Analysis,Schizotypy,Paranoia,Depression,Loneliness,Anxiety,Sleep,Mental Health,COVID-19,Longitudinal,Health,Public policymaking


            Date: 22 October 2021

            Handling Editor: Prof Dan Osborn

            Editorial decision: Request revision. The Handling Editor requested revisions; the article has been returned to the authors to make this revision.

            Please take into particular consideration:

            • All the very helpful points raised by each reviewer on various aspects of the paper including points made about possible further analysis that might bring out the reasons why Covid itself might be a factor in the conditions studied and not "just" the driver of the social or environmental circumstances in which people found themselves. Perhaps the reviewers were referring obliquely to the inflammatory / immune system impacts of the virus?
            • The way loneliness is considered in the paper needs some clarification. Reviewers point to inconsistencies. Perhaps this is because loneliness has many different facets and causes and manifestations?
            • It might help on the last point if slightly more could be said about the nature of the environments that people were living at the time of the study and whether there was any role for the fact that people were prevented from accessing local green and open spaces or waterbodies etc. and that this may have led to enhanced loneliness.
            2021-10-25 08:41 UTC

            Date: 23 September 2021

            Handling Editor: Prof Dan Osborn

            This article is a preprint article and has not been peer-reviewed. It is under consideration following submission to UCL Open: Environment for open peer review.

            2021-09-23 15:50 UTC

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