The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent public health restrictions on the mental health of adolescents is of global concern. The purpose of this study was to examine how Canadian adolescents coped during the early pandemic and whether different coping methods were associated with changes in mental health from before the pandemic to the early lockdown response.
Using two-year linked survey data (2018–2020) from a prospective cohort of secondary school students (n = 3,577), linear regression models were used to examine whether changes in mental health (anxiety [Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 scale], depression [Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression 10-item scale Revised], emotion regulation [Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale], psychosocial well-being [Flourishing scale]) were related to each coping behaviour.
The most common reported coping behaviours included staying connected with friends online (78.8%), playing video games, watching TV/movies, and/or surfing the internet/social media (76.2%), studying or working on schoolwork (71.0%), and getting exercise (65.2%). The use of positive coping mechanisms during the early pandemic period (e.g., keeping a regular schedule, time with family, time with friends online) was associated with less adverse mental health changes from before to during the early lockdown; whereas, negative coping mechanisms (e.g., spending time alone, eating junk food) were consistently associated with more adverse mental health changes.
This study demonstrates the importance of social support and connections with both friends and family, as well as keeping and maintaining a routine, over the pandemic. Interventions supporting positive relationships and engagement in these coping behaviours may be protective for adolescent mental health during disruptive events.