Using social media data to assess the impact of COVID-19 on mental health in China

Yongjian Zhu, Liqing Cao*, Jingui Xie, Yugang Yu, Anfan Chen, Fengming Huang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The outbreak and rapid spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) not only caused an adverse impact on physical health, but also brought about mental health problems among the public. 

Methods: To assess the causal impact of COVID-19 on psychological changes in China, we constructed a city-level panel data set based on the expressed sentiment in the contents of 13 million geotagged tweets on Sina Weibo, the Chinese largest microblog platform. 

Results Applying a difference-in-differences approach, we found a significant deterioration in mental health status after the occurrence of COVID-19. We also observed that this psychological effect faded out over time during our study period and was more pronounced among women, teenagers and older adults. The mental health impact was more likely to be observed in cities with low levels of initial mental health status, economic development, medical resources and social security. 

Conclusions Our findings may assist in the understanding of mental health impact of COVID-19 and yield useful insights into how to make effective psychological interventions in this kind of sudden public health event.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)388-395
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number2
Early online date20 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2023

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

User-Defined Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • difference-in-differences
  • mental health
  • sentiment analysis
  • social media


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