Longitudinal studies examining the impact of changes in COVID-19 pandemic-related stressors and experiences, and coping styles on the mental health trajectory of employed individuals during the lockdown are limited. The study examined the mental health trajectories of a sample of employed adults in Hamilton, Ontario during the initial lockdown and after the re-opening following the first wave in Canada. Further, this study also identified the pandemic-related stressors and coping strategies associated with changes in depressive symptoms in employed adults during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The InHamilton COVID-19 longitudinal study involved 579 employees aged 22–88 years from a large public university in an urban area of Hamilton, Ontario at baseline (April 2020). Participants were followed monthly with 6 waves of data collected between April and November 2020. A growth mixture modeling approach was used to identify distinct groups of adults who followed a similar pattern of depressive symptoms over time and to describe the longitudinal change in the outcome within and among the identified sub-groups.
Our results showed two distinct trajectories of change with 66.2% of participants displaying low-consistent patterns of depressive symptoms, and 33.8% of participants displaying high-increasing depressive symptom patterns. COVID-19 pandemic-related experiences including health concerns, caregiving burden, and lack of access to resources were associated with worsening of the depressive symptom trajectories. Frequent use of dysfunctional coping strategies and less frequent use of emotion-focused coping strategies were associated with the high and increasing depressive symptom pattern.
The negative mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are specific to subgroups within the population and stressors may persist and worsen over time. Providing access to evidence-informed approaches that foster adaptive coping, alleviate the depressive symptoms, and promote the mental health of working adults is critical.