Psychology, Social & Emotional Learning The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the acute and long-term well-being of the general population because of the challenges it presented including social isolation, financial insecurity, and interruption related to daily routines. There has been little research on the longer-term mental health outcomes of lockdowns as research has primarily focused on […]23 Nov 2023
Perceived Stress, Coping Strategies, and Mental Health Status Among Adolescents During the COVID-19 Pandemic
September 16, 2023
Psychology, Social & Emotional Learning
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the acute and long-term well-being of the general population because of the challenges it presented including social isolation, financial insecurity, and interruption related to daily routines. There has been little research on the longer-term mental health outcomes of lockdowns as research has primarily focused on the immediate consequences of the first lockdown on mental health outcomes. This study wanted to investigate associations between perceived COVID-19 related stress in 2020 and 2021, and coping strategies and mental health among adolescents during the first lockdown. Given that adolescents are already a particularly vulnerable population due to all the significant changes they are already facing.
Active vs Maladaptive Coping Mechanisms To Deal With Increased Stress
Studies exploring the psychological impact of the first COVID-19 pandemic lockdown on children and adolescents have identified, higher rates of depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) symptoms along with a higher prevalence of perceived psychological stress. During the first lockdown studies suggested maladaptive strategies—such as using alcohol to reduce stress, avoiding activities to manage difficulties, and disengagement coping—were related to poor mental health outcomes, whereas active coping (e.g., trying to view things in a positive light), problem-focused coping, and engagement coping (acceptance, positive thinking) were associated with fewer mental health problems and greater psychological adjustment. The stress experienced by prolonged exposure to social disruptions and their related consequences may build over time and make it increasingly difficult to practice adaptive strategies over the course of the entire pandemic.
Cognitive Restructuring Can Decrease Levels of Stress
The present longitudinal study was conducted among a large national sample of adolescents 12–18 years old from all three language regions (German, French, and Italian speaking) in Switzerland. The baseline survey was conducted from July to October 2020 to assess the impact of mental illness in adolescents during the first COVID-19 lockdown. The follow-up survey was conducted one year later, from July to September 2021, employing the same measures to assess changes in mental health symptoms, perceived stress, and coping strategies over time.
Overall, participants reported less COVID-19 related stress one year after the lockdown. Perceived stress and pre-existing psychiatric problems were significantly linked to all mental health outcomes at both time points. Parents’ poor relationships with partners during the lockdown were associated with increased anxiety symptoms in their children. Using cognitive restructuring to cope with stress was associated with less, while negative coping was associated with more anxiety, depression, and ADHD symptoms one-year post lockdown.
Females appear to have been more affected by the pandemic than males, with youths with pre-existing psychiatric problems especially vulnerable to its detrimental effects.
Cognitive Restructuring Used as an Intervention Might Give Adolescents the Necessary Strategies To Better Handle Challenging Circumstances
COVID-19 related stress during the lockdown period in 2020 predicted subsequent symptoms of anxiety, depression, ADHD, and ODD in the summer of 2021, suggesting that the stress experienced at the beginning of the pandemic affected adolescent mental health in 2021. This could be due, for example, to social isolation and loneliness during lockdowns or to the accumulation of further stress during the ongoing pandemic. Coping via cognitive restructuring, for example, “looking at the positive side of things” during the lockdown period in 2020 was associated with less severe anxiety symptoms, and in 2021 with less severe depression symptoms. Applying a large-scale intervention to train individuals in this coping behavior might give adolescents the necessary strategies to better handle challenging circumstances and mental health problems that developed during the pandemic. Implementing a cycle of screening and early intervention when necessary might offer lasting protection against continuing pandemic stress.
“Engaging in negative coping (self-criticism, blaming others) and avoidant coping was associated with more severe symptoms of anxiety, depression, and ADHD.”
“Healthcare and school professionals should support to identify vulnerable groups and adolescents showing resignation and using negative and avoidant coping strategies and train youths to use more active as well as positive coping strategies.”
“In 2021, boys continued to use cognitive restructuring, while girls reduced their cognitive
restructuring and were more likely to cope by means of emotional regulation through the expression of feelings.”
As we are now in the post COVID-19 pandemic era, schools need to consider how to respond to the challenges and in some cases trauma it presented. Each country was uniquely affected by different measures and controls. It may be worth it for schools to employ a screening tool to find out what students are at risk for mental health challenges, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. Finding a way to teach positive coping strategies as a Tier 1 practice would be beneficial for all students.—Matt Browne
Foster, S., Estévez-Lamorte, N., Walitza, S., Dzemaili, S., & Mohler-Kuo, M. (2023). Perceived stress, coping strategies, and mental health status among adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic in Switzerland: a longitudinal study. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 32(6), 937-949.