Fear of COVID-19 mediates the relation between mental distress and at-risk health behaviours in Italian adults.

Guido Veronese, Federica Cavazzoni, Francesca Fiore, Pancake Rachel


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has become a global crisis, necessitating an investigation of its effects from a mental health and wellbeing perspective. In Italy within a few weeks of detecting the first case of coronavirus (February 20, 2020), the country imposed a nationwide quarantine to reduce transmission of the virus disrupting people's daily lives, and creating a significant impact on their physical and mental health. 

Methods: We sought to test the mediating role of the fear of COVID-19 in the association between mental distress and risky health behaviours in a population of 592 Italian adults, including 467 females and 124 males (M= 39.7; SD= 16.4; range 18-79). First, we hypothesized a direct positive effect of mental distress, measured through the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) on risky health behaviours, recorded throughout an adaptation of the Ebola risk behaviour scale, second, a direct and negative association between mental distress and fear of COVID-19 and the mediation role of Fear of COVID (FCV) between mental distress and risky health behaviours.

Results: Mental distress and risky behaviours showed to be tied thanks to the mediation of fear of the COVID-19. This relationship is an essential indicator of the role of decreased mental health in alleviating fear and exposing people to risky behaviours.

Conclusions: Good mental health could protect from risk-taking behaviours when fear is not intervening as a mediator, while psychologically distressed people could perceive less fear of getting infected and be exposed to harmful and dangerous behaviours that could increase the risk of contracting the COVID-19. Our findings might help in promoting healthy behaviours during the pandemic outbreak. 


Fear of COVID-19; mental health; health risk behaviours; adult population; Health Psychology.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.13129/2282-1619/mjcp-3145


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