Can Reading Cause Mental Health Issues?

Anything that can influence our mental health has the power to shape it positively or negatively.

The more persistent and severe mental illnesses/health issues are genetic, and often inherited.

With that said, lets shift out focus to reading..

Can reading really cause mental health issues?

Reading triggering or negative content that leaves a considerable impact on your mental state can cause or trigger mental health issues to a certain extent for most people.

However, the more severe and serious mental health issues are usually the result of something much deeper and complex like biological, heredity or triggering factors such as trauma, alcohol or drug abuse. etc

How the content of what you read affects mental health

Emotional impact

Reading about distressing, traumatic, or emotionally charged topics can evoke strong emotions. This can lead to feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety, or distress, especially if the content reminds you of personal experiences or triggers past traumas.

Imagine someone who has experienced a personal loss, such as the death of a loved one. They’ve been dealing with grief and have made some progress in their healing process.

However, one day, they decide to read a deeply moving novel about a similar situation, where the protagonists experience mirrors their own grief.

As they delve into the story, the vivid descriptions and emotional depth of the narrative closely resemble their own feelings of sorrow and longing.

As they read the person starts to feel an overwhelming sense of sadness and grief resurfaces.

The novels depiction of loss, mourning, and the emotional turmoil of the characters deeply resonates with their own experiences, causing a flood of emotions, they might even find themselves unable to stop crying, feeling as if their own wounds have been freshly reopened.

In this scenario, reading about the emotionally charged topic of grief can trigger several mental health issues:

Intensified grief

The person’s grief which was gradually subsiding can be intensified by the emotional content they’ve read. It may feel as though they’ve taken a step backward in their healing process.

Anxiety and depression

The overwhelming emotional response triggered by the reading material can lead to heightened levels of anxiety and depression. The person may experience a sense of hopelessness and sadness.

Intrusive thoughts and memories

The traumatic or emotionally charged content can lead to intrusive thoughts and memories related to their own loss. These intrusive thoughts can disrupt their daily life and contribute to distress.

Avoidance behavior

In an attempt to cope with the intense emotions evoked by the reading, the individual might develop avoidance behaviors, such as avoiding reminders of their loss or avoiding reminders of their loss or avoiding any content related to grief.

Sleep disturbances

The emotional turmoil caused by the reading can disrupt their sleep patterns, leading to insomnia or nightmares.


Feeling overwhelmed by the emotional content, the person might isolate themselves from friends and family, further impacting their mental well-being.

Stress and anxiety

Content that is highly stressful or anxiety inducing can contribute to increased stress levels. For example, constantly reading news articles about crises or disasters can heighten feelings of anxiety and helplessness.

Imagine a person reading a series of articles and news reports about a global pandemic, such as the COVID-19 pandemic that began in 2019. The content they read includes alarming statistics, stories of severe illness and death, economic disruptions, and ongoing uncertainty.

Here’s how this scenario can affect their mental health:

Fear and anxiety

The constant flow of negative information about the pandemic can trigger fear and anxiety. They may worry about contracting the virus, the health of their loved ones, and the implications for their jobs of finances. This persistent anxiety can lead to heightened stress levels.

Isolation and loneliness

Lockdowns and social distancing measures can be isolating.

Reading about the need for isolation can worsen feelings of loneliness, which is known to have adverse effects on mental health.

Information overload

The vast amount of information and conflicting reports can lead to information overload. It becomes overwhelming to filter through the constant stream of news, leading to cognitive fatigue/mental tiredness via reading stressful info, increased stress, and difficulty making decisions.

Obsessive thoughts

Reading about the pandemic may lead to obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.

 Some individuals may feel the need to constantly check news updates or engage in excessive hygiene practices, which can be signs of anxiety disorders.


The negative news about loss of life, economic struggles, and the extended duration of the pandemic can contribute to feelings of hopelessness and depression.

Prolonged exposure to distressing content may diminish ones overall sense of well-being.

Physical Health Implications

Chronic stress resulting from reading anxiety inducing content can have physical health implications, such as weakened immune function and an increased risk of cardiovascular issues.

Social withdraw

Due to anxiety and fear, some individuals may withdraw from social interactions, even virtual ones. This isolation can further worsen feelings of depression and loneliness.

Cognitive impact

Complex or intellectually challenging material can be mentally taxing and may contribute to feelings of overwhelm or mental fatigue, particularly if you’re already dealing with stress or cognitive overload

Imagine a student who is struggling to understand highly technical and advanced scientific paper in a field they are passionate about.

 This paper is filled with complex mathematical equations, jargon, and intricate experimental methods. The student is determined to grasp the content, but as they dive deeper into the paper, they find it increasingly challenging to comprehend.

Feeling inadequacy

The student might initially feel motivated to tackle the material, but as they continue to struggle, they might begin to doubt their own abilities and intelligence.

This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, triggering emotions like frustration, anxiety, and even self-criticism.

Overwhelming stress

The sheer complexity of the content can lead to stress, as the student grapples with the pressure to understand it. They might worry about exams, assignments, or research that requires a comprehension of this material, adding to the stress and potentially causing anxiety.

Negative self-talk

The student may start to engage in negative self-talk, such as “I’m not smart enough for this, “I’ll never understand it or “I’m a failure”. This self-critical internal dialogue can significantly impact their self-esteem and emotional well-being.

Physical symptoms

Overwhelm and stress can manifest as physical symptoms like headaches insomnia and tension. These physical symptoms can worsen emotional distress and contribute to a vicious cycle of mental health issues.

Avoidance behavior

The student might start avoiding the material or procrastinating because the emotional toll of attempting to understand it is too great. Avoidance can lead to a sense of failure and guilt, further affecting mental health.


The student might withdraw from social interactions and support networks, isolating themselves because they don’t want to admit their struggles. This isolation may intensity feelings of loneliness and sadness.