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The upside: coping and psychological resilience in Australian adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic

The upside: coping and psychological resilience in Australian adolescents during the COVID-19... Background: Since the COVID‑19 outbreak, few studies have investigated the positive psychological consequences on young people. This study examined resilience, positive experiences, and coping strategies reported by Australian adolescents during COVID‑19. Methods: Self‑report surveys were administered online to a sample of 760 Australian adolescents aged 12–18 years. Quantitative and qualitative methods were used to assess resilience, positive experiences, and coping strategies. Exploratory regression analyses were conducted to explore the relationship between resilience and demographics and mental illness history, as well as between resilience and positive experiences. Results: Overall, adolescents were somewhat resilient (M = 20.93, SD = 8.29). They reported positive experiences dur‑ ing COVID‑19, including increased empathy, compassion, gratitude, and connection with others, and reported using a range of active coping strategies. Having a mental illness history and identification as female or non‑binary gender were associated with lower resilience (Bs > 2.82, ps < 0.001). Further, resilience was associated with decreased psycho‑ logical distress (OR = 0.89, p < 0.001) and with increased positive experiences (ORs > 1.03, ps < 0.001). Conclusions: Our results indicate that Australian adolescents commonly reported positive experiences and used active coping strategies during COVID‑19. Some young people demonstrated higher levels of resilience and were able to make the most out of an unpredictable situation that severely disrupted their daily routine. However, further prospective research using longitudinal methods is necessary to examine causal relationships between variables. An implication of our findings is that resilience ‑building programs for adolescents may be effective in increasing adapt ‑ ability after adversity (e.g., climate change, bushfires, pandemics). Keywords: Resilience, Coping, Adolescent, Youth mental health, Covid‑19, Pandemic consequences have been documented in a growing num- Background ber of cross-sectional and longitudinal surveys, with the The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on overwhelming consensus being that the mental health adolescents around the world [1]. Young people have of adolescents has deteriorated during the pandemic experienced disruptions to their education, social con- [1–3]. However, it is unknown whether adolescents have nections, family relationships, future job opportunities, demonstrated psychological resilience, experienced any financial stability, and mental health. These negative positive effects, or used effective coping strategies dur - ing COVID-19. Understanding how adolescents have *Correspondence: j.beames@blackdog.org.au coped will facilitate disaster planning by guiding ways Black Dog Institute, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia © The Author(s) 2021. Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http:// creat iveco mmons. org/ licen ses/ by/4. 0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http:// creat iveco mmons. org/ publi cdoma in/ zero/1. 0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data. Beames et al. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health (2021) 15:77 Page 2 of 10 to optimise social resources and enhance psychological relaxation, staying busy, hobbies, watching television resilience [4]. or playing video games, and maintaining a routine as Psychological resilience refers to the maintenance or ways to cope [19–22]. Another survey study with young recovery of mental health after times of adversity [5–7]. adults (M = 22) in Zurich, similarly identified that age According to the developmental systems perspective, coping strategies, such as keeping a daily routine, physi- adaptive capacity depends on multiple interacting sys- cal activity, contacting friends and family, acceptance of tems e.g., [8–11]. For example, a young person is embed- the COVID-19 crisis, and cognitive restructuring, were ded in systems such as family and school, which are, in associated with reduced distress during the pandemic turn, embedded in higher order systems such as com- [23]. The results of these studies show the beneficial munity and economies. The systems perspective hypoth - effects of resilience processes on youth mental health esises that the process of adaptation depends on the during COVID-19. It remains unknown whether similar capacity of these systems to adapt in response to threat. benefits were experienced by young Australians, dur - The shift toward the systems perspective was largely ing a later phase of the pandemic that included stringent influenced by the growing threat of mass-trauma global lockdowns. adversities, including terror attacks, natural environmen- The relevance of resilience processes in the context of tal disasters, and pandemics [9, 12]. In the current paper, COVID-19 is underscored by an emerging adult litera- we focus on the individual-level. We answer questions ture. Global studies show that engagement in active cop- about how young people coped during the COVID-19 ing strategies, such as recreational activity, acceptance, outbreak and investigate factors or processes that sup- and perspective taking, were associated with lower symp- port adaptive success [8]. Individual-level factors that toms of depression, anxiety, and stress during COVID-19 promote resilience in adolescents include age and gender, [24, 25]. Results from a New Zealand adult sample also as well as active coping strategies, hope, and optimism [7, show pandemic ‘silver linings’ including a sense of com- 13]. Overall, individuals show varying levels of resilience munity and social cohesion, improved social relation- in response to stressful life events [8]. ships, personal reflection, personal development, and The use of effective coping skills to regulate emotional perceived agency [26]. Together, these results indicate experiences during, or after, adversity is an example of that the effect of COVID-19 may not be inherently or an adaptive process underpinning resilience [7]. Coping exclusively negative and that some individuals may be skills can be conceptualised in different ways [14], includ - more likely to experience positive outcomes than oth- ing differentiating between active (or approach) and pas - ers. Further investigation is needed to determine whether sive (or avoidant) coping skills. Active coping involves these findings generalise to adolescents, a group that typ - using cognitive and behavioural strategies to directly ically undergoes a unique set of developmental changes reduce or control stress, such as problem-solving, seek- and major life transitions. ing social support, and cognitive restructuring, whereas passive coping involves avoiding or disengaging from The current study sources of stress [15]. In general, active coping strategies The potential positive aspects of young people’s expe - are related to better adjustment to stress and improved rience during COVID-19 in the Australian context is mental health compared to passive strategies [15, 16]. unknown. Further, limited attention has been given to Similarly, research has also shown that active coping individual differences in resilience and the relationship strategies, such as problem-solving and social support between resilience and positive and negative experi- seeking, are important in the transition from adolescence ences during the pandemic. We addressed these gaps to early adulthood [17]. Taken together, this research by conducting a large cross-sectional, mixed methods indicates that the use of active coping skills may be indic- survey study to investigate resilience, positive experi- ative of resilience in response to COVID-19. ences, and coping strategies in Australian adolescents Several international studies have examined youth during COVID-19. In line with process-oriented resil- resilience in the context of COVID-19. One cross-sec- ience frameworks [7], including the developmental sys- tional survey study with Chinese youth conducted in tems perspective [8], resilience was conceptualised as a April 2020 found that trait resilience and use of positive dynamic process of adaptation. coping strategies were related to decreased depression The aims of this mixed-methods study were two-fold. and anxiety [18]. Positive coping encompassed active The first aim was to explore resilience, positive experi - (rather than passive) strategies, including cognitive reap- ences, and active coping strategies in Australian ado- praisal, problem-solving, and help-seeking. Converging lescents between 12 and 18  years. For the qualitative results have been found in the Unites States and Europe, component, young people were asked to answer open- with young people reportedly using social connection, ended questions about coping strategies employed during B eames et al. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health (2021) 15:77 Page 3 of 10 the pandemic. Based on previous studies from the youth Psychological distress and adult literature during COVID-19 [18, 19, 21, 24], we The Kessler-6 (K6) assessed general psychological dis - expected that adolescents would report positive experi- tress over the past 30  days [32, 33]. Each item is rated ences and engagement in primarily active (versus pas- on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 = none of the time, sive) coping strategies. The second aim was to investigate 2 = a little of the time, 3 = some of the time, 4 = most associations between resilience and demographic charac- of the time, 5 = all of the time. Total scores are calcu- teristics (age, gender, mental illness history), distress, and lated by summing all items, with a higher score indi- positive experiences. Given the early stage of COVID-19 cating higher psychological distress. Scores range from research in youth sample, our analysis of the associations 6–30. Consistent with recommended cut-off scores, between resilience and other variables were exploratory. responses were then binarised into no probable mental illness (scores 6–18) and probable mental illness (19– 30; [34]). The K6 has been widely used and validated Method with young people and has strong psychometric prop- Participants erties [35–38]. Overall, the K6 is appropriate to meas- Young people between the ages of 12–18  years were ure adolescent distress in large surveys. recruited across Australia via social media advertise- ments. Data was collected from an online survey between Positive experiences the end of June 2020 and the beginning of August 2020. A bespoke questionnaire developed by the authors for This period of data collection included the relaxing of the current study was used to assess positive experi- lockdown restrictions across Australia, with the excep- ences during COVID-19, based on previous literature tion of the city of Melbourne and the state of Victoria [39, 40]. Participants were presented with a list of five (both were subject to restrictive second wave lockdown positive experiences, including: “feeling more con- conditions during this time). Data reported here were nected with friends and family”, “feeling things are collected as part of a larger survey examining the impact more calm at home”, “feeling more grateful”, “feeling of COVID-19 on the lives and mental health of Austral- kinder and more generous towards others”, and “feeling ian adolescents, which is documented elsewhere [27]. more empathy towards others who are less fortunate than you”. Participants were asked to indicate whether Measures they had experienced any of these outcomes in the past Demographics and mental illness history week by selecting a check box. Information was collected on participants’ age and gen- der. For mental illness history, participants were asked whether they had ever been diagnosed with depression Coping strategies or anxiety by a professional (0 = no, 1 = yes, depression Participants were asked to write free text responses to only, 2 = yes, anxiety only, 3 = yes, both depression and one open-ended question that enquired about coping anxiety, 4 = I don’t know, 5 = prefer not to say). strategies used during COVID-19 (i.e., “What strategies have you used to cope?”). Responses were optional and not required to complete the survey. Resilience The 10-item Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD- RISC-10) was used to measure resilience [28]. The CD- Procedure RISC-10 assesses the availability of resilience factors, Participants were directed to the online survey plat- such as social support and self-efficacy, to maintain form (Qualtrics) after clicking on study advertisements. or regain mental health despite adversity. Each item is All respondents were required to demonstrate that rated on a five-point scale ranging from 0 = not true at they understood the study and had the capacity to pro- all, 1 = rarely true, 2 = sometimes true, 3 = often true, vide informed consent, using the Gillick Competency and 4 = true nearly all of the time. Total scores are calcu- Task [41], before providing consent and accessing the lated by summing all items, with a higher score indicating survey. Upon completion of the survey, participants higher resilience. Scores range from 0 to 40. The CD- were placed into a draw to receive one of five AUD$50 RISC-10 has demonstrated reliability and validity among vouchers. The study was approved by the UNSW adolescent samples [29, 30]. There are no defined cut-off Human Research Ethics Committee (HC200334). scores for the scale, however normative data indicated that the mean resilience score in an international adoles- cent sample was 24.7 [31]. To the best of our knowledge, normative data for the CD-RISC-10 for Australian ado- lescents are not yet available. Beames et al. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health (2021) 15:77 Page 4 of 10 Statistical analysis that indicates that coping or emotion regulation strate- Quantitative analyses gies are not inherently maladaptive or adaptive [43]. A All quantitative analyses were conducted in SPSS v. second author (SL) applied the code book to 20% of the 25. Descriptive analyses were used to report demo- responses to check coding alignment. There was high graphic and sample characteristics, and the proportion agreement between both coders (90%) and all discrepan- of young people who endorsed each positive experience cies were resolved through discussion. during the pandemic. A simultaneous multiple regression analysis was con- Results ducted to explore the relationship between demographic Sample characteristics characteristics and resilience. Resilience was regressed The final sample included 760 young people aged on age, gender, and mental illness history (i.e., a previ- between 12 and 18  years, with a mean age of 14.8  years ous diagnosis of depression and/or anxiety). Gender and (SD = 1.26). A majority were female (72%; 5% non- mental illness history were entered into the model using binary), spoke English at home (87.7%) and born in Aus- dummy codes (0 = male, 1 = female; 2 = non-binar y/ tralia (88.1%), and 9.4% identified as Aboriginal or Torres other; 0 = no diagnosis; 1 = diagnosis). Unstandardised Strait Islander. Participants lived across all Australian regression coefficients were used to describe the effects. states and territories, with the majority located in Victo- Squared semi-partial correlations were examined to fur- ria (n = 266, 35.2%), New South Wales (n = 238, 31.5%) ther understand the unique relationships between the and Queensland (n = 116, 15.3%). There were no sig - variables within the model. nificant differences between location and resilience, F(7, A binary logistic regression analysis was conducted 739) = 0.16, p = 0.99, and so data were not segregated by to explore the relationship between resilience and psy- location for the current analyses. Approximately 50% of chological distress (0 = no probable mental illness, the sample indicated that their parent or carer’s job had 1 = probable mental illness). For this analysis, psycho- been impacted by the pandemic. Just over 35% reported logical distress  was regressed on resilience. A series of being diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression in the binary logistic regression analyses were then conducted past. The mean score on the K6 was 18.08 (SD = 6.63; to explore the relationship between resilience and each range 6–30). Almost half of the sample (48.5%) scored positive experience (e.g., increased empathy; 0 = No, above the threshold that indicates psychological distress 1 = Yes). For these analyses, positive experiences were indicative of probable mental illness. For more detailed regressed on resilience. Unstandardised estimates were characteristics of the sample, see [27]. exponentiated into odds ratios. All regression assump- tions, including normality, homoscedasticity, linear- Analyses ity, and multicollinearity were met within the relevant Resilience models. Excluding outliers in the regression analyses did The mean level of resilience reported by young people not change the pattern of results, and so all outliers are was 20.93 (SD = 8.29, range = 0–40). included in the results below. Individual differences in resilience A simultaneous multiple linear regression was run to Qualitative analyses explore the relationship between resilience and age, Coding strategy gender, and mental illness history (i.e., a previous diag- All qualitative analyses were conducted in Excel. One nosis of depression and/or anxiety). The overall model author (JRB) coded responses to the open-ended ques- was significant, F(4, 656) = 23.31, p < 0.001, R = 12.4%. tion using a deductive approach. JRB developed a code Female gender, non-binary gender, and mental illness book based on coping strategies typically defined as history explained a significant proportion of the variance “active” and “passive” in the coping literature [42], as in resilience (ps < 0.001), whereas age did not (p = 0.31). well as coping strategies identified in previous COVID- Young people who identified as female and young people 19 research [18, 23]. JRB refined the codes through who identified as non-binary or another gender reported repeated immersion with the responses. In line with the significantly lower resilience levels than young people study aim, focus was given to positive or helpful strate- who identified as male. Young people with a mental ill - gies rather than those that were clearly maladaptive or ness history reported significantly lower resilience com - harmful, such as self-harm. Passive strategies were coded pared to those without a mental illness history. Squared when they were described as alleviating emotional dis- semi-partial correlations indicated that mental ill- tress or promoting positive emotions, even if only in the ness history (sr = 0.067; 6.76%) accounted for a greater short term. This approach aligns with emerging research unique proportion of the variance in resilience compared B eames et al. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health (2021) 15:77 Page 5 of 10 Table 1 Linear regression results for resilience B 95% CI for B SE B β t p R LL UL Model 0.12 Constant 29.31 21.94 36.68 3.75 7.81 0.00 Age − 0.25 − 0.74 0.23 0.25 − 0.04 − 1.02 0.31 Female − 2.83 − 4.39 − 1.27 0.79 − 0.15 − 3.57 0.00* Non‑binary − 0.35 − 7.94 − 2.75 1.32 − 0.17 − 4.05 0.00* Mental illness history − 4.61 − 5.88 − 3.34 0.65 − 0.27 − 7.13 0.00* B unstandardised regression coefficient, CI confidence interval, LL lower limit, UL upper limit, SE B standard error for the unstandardised coefficient, β standardised regression coefficient, R coefficient of determination p < 0.001 Table 2 Logistic regression for psychological distress Table 3 Logistic regressions for positive experiences OR 95% CI for OR p OR 95% CI for OR p LL UL LL UL Resilience 0.89 0.87 0.91 0.00* Feeling connected Constant 11.03 0.00 Resilience 1.06 1.04 1.08 0.00* Constant 0.14 0.00 OR odds ratio, CI confidence interval, LL lower limit, UL upper limit Calm at home p < 0.001 Resilience 1.04 1.02 1.08 0.00* Constant 0.12 0.00 Feeling grateful to age (sr = 0.0014; 0.14%) and the gender variables Resilience 1.07 1.05 1.09 0.00* (sr < 0.022; < 2.2%). See Table  1 for regression model Constant 0.17 0.00 output. Feeling kind/generous Resilience 1.05 1.03 1.07 0.00* Resilience and psychological distress Constant 0.18 0.00 A binary logistic regression was run to explore the Feeling empathy relationship between resilience and psychological dis- Resilience 1.03 1.01 1.05 0.00* tress. The overall model was significant, χ (1) = 134.92, 2 Constant 0.69 0.07 p < 0.001, and explained 22% (Nagelkerke R ) of the vari- OR odds ratio, CI confidence interval, LL lower limit, UL upper limit ance in distress. Young people who reported higher resil- p < 0.001 ience had lower odds of reporting probable mental illness compared to young people who reported higher resil- ience (OR = 0.89, p < 0.001). See Table  2 for regression higher resilience also had higher odds of feeling more model output. connected to friends and family compared to those who did not report feeling more connected. The amount of Positive experiences variance explained by each positive experience was low Over half of the sample (56.9%) reported feeling greater and variable, ranging from 2.3 to 9.5%. See Table 3 for the levels of empathy toward others who are less fortunate regression model output. than themselves, and 42.9% reported feeling more grate- ful in general. Approximately one-third of the sample reported feeling more connected with friends and family Coping strategies (34%) and feeling kinder and more generous toward oth- The coding of free-text responses to the question assess - ers (32.1%). In comparison to these positive experiences, ing coping strategies resulted in 16 categories. Of these experiencing feelings that things were calmer at home categories, 14 were of active coping strategies and 2 were was endorsed by fewer young people (23%). Further, the of passive coping strategies. See Table  4 for a summary logistic regression models indicated that resilience was of descriptive statistics for all categories reported and significantly related each type of positive experience, Table 5 for definitions and example quotes. ORs > 1.03, ps < 0.001. For example, young people with Beames et al. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health (2021) 15:77 Page 6 of 10 Table 4 Summary of descriptive statistics for coded coping study of older adolescents between 16–17  years (i.e., strategies 26.5/40 on the CD-RISC-10; [44]). Increased psychologi- cal distress has been demonstrated in young people dur- Coping strategy n % ing COVID-19 e.g., [2, 27]. Given our finding that there Active is a negative relationship between resilience and distress, Socialising 180 37.89 it is not surprising that resilience levels in our sample of Hobbies 116 24.42 young people were comparatively reduced overall during Physical exercise 60 12.63 the pandemic. Young people are vulnerable to stressors Psychological strategies 42 8.84 relating to family, friends, and schools [45], all of which Routine 34 7.16 have been significantly disrupted by COVID-19. Our Focusing on the positives 31 6.53 results also indicated that some young people were less Help‑seeking 27 5.68 resilient than others (e.g., those who identified as female Emotional expression 21 4.42 or non-binary, those who reported a history of anxiety/ Psychological treatment/therapy 21 4.42 depression). Identifying those with increased vulnerabil- Time for self 11 2.32 ity will be important to aid optimal recovery in response Limit screen time 6 1.26 to future stressors (e.g., climate change, pandemics, Spirituality/religion 4 0.84 bushfires). Resilience-building programs are one way Being informed 3 0.63 to facilitate adaptive functioning in the face of adver- Humour 2 0.42 sity. Resilience-building interventions generally aim to Passive strengthen protective factors [6], which can be internal Distraction 51 10.74 (e.g., coping skills) or external (e.g., family relationships, Rest/sleep/relax 29 6.11 community support and available services). Many resil- ience-based approaches are now available, with increas- ing evidence that they help to prevent decline or regain A total of 596 (78.42%) young people provided a psychological functioning in adolescence after adversity response to the open-ended coping strategies question. [46–48]. Further intervention research is necessary to Of these, 475 (79.70%) responses were coded as coping determine the beneficial effects of these approaches for strategies that had the potential for positive effects on specific sub-groups of young people (e.g., different ages, mental health and wellbeing. The total number of cop - genders, sexualities). ing strategies used ranged between 1 and 4, with a mean In our sample of young people, mental illness history of 1.40 (SD = 0.67). The most common coping strategies was more strongly related to resilience compared to age were active, including socialising (37.89%), engaging in and gender. This finding corresponds to prior COVID- hobbies (24.4%), and doing physical exercise (12.63%). 19 research in young people showing that mental illness Other active coping strategies reported included using history is related to higher distress [18, 27]. Young peo- psychological strategies such as perspective taking and ple with a mental illness history may be more vulnerable relaxation (8.84%), keeping a routine (7.16%), focusing on to increased threat caused by COVID-19. Vulnerabil- the positives (6.53%), and help-seeking (5.68%). Overall, ity may be explained by having fewer skills to manage passive coping strategies, including distraction (10.74%) distress and facilitate adaptation, or by an inability to and sleeping or relaxing/sleeping (6.11%), were less fre- use acquired coping skills effectively when the broader quently reported than active coping strategies. system is threatened. This interpretation aligns with research showing that effective emotion regulation is dependent on context [49], with flexible selection and Discussion timing of strategy use linked to better emotional out- To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first to comes e.g., [43, 50]. explore the positive aspects of young people’s psycho- One resilience-building skill that might facilitate logical experience during COVID-19 within the Austral- bouncing back from adversity is active coping. Evidence ian context. Our results add to the emerging literature for the use and effectiveness of active coping strategies showing that the experience of young people during during COVID-19 has been documented in previous COVID-19 is not exclusively negative, and that positive research [18, 19, 23], which we replicated in our cross- experiences are common. sectional study. We found that the most reported strate- Resilience levels in our sample were slightly lower than gies were socialising, engaging in hobbies, and exercise. normative levels reported in an international sample with These findings emphasise the importance of peer rela - a similar age range before COVID-19 [31]. Resilience lev- tionships for young people [51], as well as their capacity els were also lower than a large representative Australian B eames et al. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health (2021) 15:77 Page 7 of 10 Table 5 Summary of categories in open ended responses about coping strategies used during COVID19 Coping strategy Definition Example Active Socialising Talking, hanging out, or connecting with family or friends (faceto face or using “Talking to friends and family” technology) “I video call my friends in some of my classes and after school so I’m not lonely. We often do schoolwork, homework, exercise/workouts or just hang out” Hobbies Any kind of activity enacted for enjoyment, pleasure, or achievement, such as “Doing what i like, my hobbies. drawing, dancing, music, eating” listening to music, art, reading, or gaming “Indulging myself in activities I enjoy, like music and gaming” Physical exercise Any kind of physical activity, such as team sports, walking, running, yoga, or “Going outside and exercising” other references to working out “Walking a few hours a day” Psychological strategies Active coping strategies, such as breathing, perspective taking, using calm/ “I have used breathing exercises to calm myself down” relaxation apps, and meditation “I tried most of the anxiety strategies I leant [sic] when I saw a psychologist last year (eg. Socratic questions, meditation, staying in the moment, etc.)” Routine Deliberate engagement in regular activities, such as schoolwork/study (or Having a schedule especially with school work, arranging them into hours of the returning to school), making plans and to do lists, basic hygiene (e.g., brushing day and giving myself breaks in between teeth, getting dressed), or daily chores (e.g., making bed), eating healthily Focusing on the positives Taking a positive outlook on the current situation and the future, or other refer “I try to stay optimistic” ences to doing the best that they can “Just saying it will be okay, you can make it. This will be better soon” Helpseeking Asking for help from friends, family, teachers, or professionals, including broad “I’ve been talking to my parents more (about mental health) and I’ve found that references to talking to other people about problems this helps” “I spoke to a teacher that I have for multiple classes ab[out] a couple of the things I’ve been struggling with after I had a incident in her class” Emotional expression Outward displays of emotions to self or to others (e.g., crying), including “Honestly I’ve just cried a lot” through drawing/writing “I have a sketch book where I draw my emotions and thoughts” Psychological treatment/therapy Seeing a mental health professional for support and/or engaging in therapy “I’ve been seeing a psychologist” (including counselling, psychologists, medications) “Talking to my therapist” Time for self Taking time out to reset and spending time on own (but not explicitly framed “Spending time to concentrate on a particular task, and chilling for my own self ” as a way to avoid problems) Limit screen time Restricting the amount of time spent using technology “I have set myself up a screen time limit to reduce my screen time” Spirituality/religion Any reference to religion, spirituality, or God “Have faith in God” “Reading my bible” Being informed Staying up to date with information about COVID19 “Watching the news so I knew exactly what was going on and no one else was telling me false stuff ” Humour Any reference to humour “Humour” Passive Distraction Deliberately not paying attention or trying to distract from the current situa “Focusing on something away from anything involving the virus” tion, or other references to keeping busy (includes TV/Netflix/YouTube) “trying to keep my mind off the pandemic and issues going on at the moment” Rest/sleep/relax Any mention of resting, sleeping, napping, or relaxing (coded as separate to “Mainly just having a good nights’ sleep” routine when identified as a coping strategy to boost functioning, rather than maintaining regular sleep/wake cycles) Beames et al. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health (2021) 15:77 Page 8 of 10 to engage in activities that potentially enhance positive collection, which was necessary in the context of a rap- mood. We also found evidence for the use of passive cop- idly evolving public health disaster, selection bias may ing strategies, including distraction and sleep or relaxing. limit generalisability to the broader population of Aus- Although our cross-sectional findings cannot extrapolate tralian young people. For example, 72% of our sample causality, based on the resilience framework [7], the use were female, 9.4% identified as Aboriginal and/or Tor - of coping strategies likely increases the likelihood of posi- res Strait Islander, and 88.1% were born in Australia. tive adaptation. These percentages are higher than recent population In addition to coping strategies, other important psy- estimates of gender, First Nations identification, and chosocial resilience factors include optimism and hope country of origin among Australian young people [56]. [52]. Adolescents in our sample reported feeling more Sampling methods have been identified as a critical empathy, gratitude, connectedness, and kinder, more issue in COVID-19 research [57]. generous feelings toward others. Increased resilience Another limitation was that our data collection meth- was associated with these positive experiences, con- ods relied on retrospective self-reports and open-ended verging with other research that has linked challenging responses from young people. This methodology is sus - experiences with wellbeing and reduced psychopathol- ceptible to response bias, such as social desirability, ogy [53]. These results are also consistent with findings which can occur even when surveys are anonymous. that adults have the capacity to experience ‘silver linings’ Integration of other perspectives, such as from parents, and unexpected positive outcomes in the midst of the school teachers, or school counsellors/psychologists, COVID-19 pandemic [26]. Future research is needed to and use of validated measures (e.g., of resilience, coping determine whether positive experiences can be sustained, strategies or positive experiences), might help to cor- and whether adolescents with an affinity for focusing on roborate reports from young people and increase reli- the positives are more resilient than those who do not (or ability of findings in future studies. Subjective measures vice versa). of resilience have received criticism in the literature. Our exploratory results indicate that gender might There are no “gold standard” measures of resilience, influence vulnerability to adversity and, by extension, with all requiring additional validation work [58]. Spe- capacity for positive experiences. Young people who cific to the CD-RISC-10, lack of normative data in Aus - identified as female or non-binary/another gender tralian adolescents means that findings in the current reported significantly lower resilience. Although a com - sample are difficult to contextualise. However, the CD- parison to pre-pandemic levels was not available, this RISC-10 is one of the most frequently used scales and general pattern of results is consistent with prior research has excellent psychometric properties [59]. Overall, our [18, 54, 55]. Given that young females have higher rates findings add to the extant literature on youth resilience of mental health problems, particularly internalising dis- and build the case for positive experiences in the con- orders such as anxiety and depression, they may be more text of COVID-19. vulnerable during prolonged stressors. Gender differ - Finally, this study was cross-sectional and correla- ences in resilience are not well understood and further tional. This design means that causal conclusions can - research is needed to explore how gender affects vulner - not be made about resilience, coping, and other positive ability to and recovery after stressful life events. Identify- outcomes, nor about the long-term positive effects of ing vulnerable individuals who are struggling to cope will COVID-19 on Australian youth. We cannot compare help allocate mental health resources to those who need the resilience levels reported in our sample to pre-pan- them most in the aftermath of COVID-19. demic levels. Repeated assessments of resilience over the long-term are important to explore changes in resil- ience levels as COVID-19 progresses (e.g., emergence Limitations of the Delta  or Omicron variants) and in response to The current study had several limitations. Given our government and community initiatives. In particular, focus on internalising symptoms (e.g., psychologi- there is a pressing need for prospective longitudinal cal distress), we did not examine externalising disor- resilience studies [7] that assess multiple developmen- ders. Examining the relationship between resilience tal systems (e.g., individual, family, and economic; 13). and externalising disorders in the context of large- Assessing multiple levels has the advantage of docu- scale public health emergencies is an area for future menting cascading consequences, whether positive or research. We also used a convenience sample of young negative, of large-scale environmental stressors such as people that was recruited online using established net- COVID-19. Understanding the full impact of COVID- works within the Black Dog Institute. Although this 19 is critical to developing effective mental health dis - approach facilitated timely administration and data aster readiness and response plans for young people. B eames et al. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health (2021) 15:77 Page 9 of 10 Received: 18 August 2021 Accepted: 13 December 2021 Conclusions Our study showed that, during the COVID-19 pan- demic, young Australians have demonstrated resilience, albeit some more than others, as well as the capacity References for positive experiences. Our study also showed that a 1. de Miranda DM, da Silva Athanasio B, et al. How is covid‑19 pandemic large proportion of young people reported using active impacting mental health of children and adolescents? Int J Disaster Risk Reduct. 2020;51:101845. coping strategies during the rapidly evolving, unpre- 2. Racine N, Cooke JE, et al. Child and adolescent mental illness during dictable circumstances that they found themselves in. covid‑19: a rapid review. Psychiatry Res. 2020;292:113307. Building on prior work, our results indicate that resil- 3. Guessoum SB, Lachal J, et al. Adolescent psychiatric disorders during the covid‑19 pandemic and lockdown. 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Zimmer‑ Gembeck MJ, Skinner EA. The development of coping: implica‑ authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors have tions for psychopathology and resilience. Dev Psychopathol. 2016;4:1. read and approved the final manuscript. 16. Compas BE, Jaser SS, et al. Coping, emotion regulation, and psychopa‑ thology in childhood and adolescence: a meta‑analysis and narrative Funding review. Psychol Bull. 2017;143:939. This study was supported by the Black Dog Institute, a NSW Health Fellow‑ 17. Leipold B, Munz M, et al. Coping and resilience in the transition to adult‑ ship awarded to AW‑S, a MRFF Career Development Fellowship awarded to hood. Emerg Adulthood. 2019;7:12. JN, and an NHMRC Senior Principal Fellowship (115614) awarded to HC. The 18. Zhang C, Ye M, et al. The psychological impact of the covid‑19 pandemic funders had no role in the study design, collection, analysis or interpretation on teenagers in China. 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At BMC, research is always in progress. 48. Leys C, Arnal C, et al. Perspectives on resilience: personality trait or skill? Learn more biomedcentral.com/submissions Eur J Trauma Dissociation. 2020;4: 100074. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health Springer Journals

The upside: coping and psychological resilience in Australian adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Springer Journals
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Copyright © The Author(s) 2021
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1753-2000
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10.1186/s13034-021-00432-z
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Abstract

Background: Since the COVID‑19 outbreak, few studies have investigated the positive psychological consequences on young people. This study examined resilience, positive experiences, and coping strategies reported by Australian adolescents during COVID‑19. Methods: Self‑report surveys were administered online to a sample of 760 Australian adolescents aged 12–18 years. Quantitative and qualitative methods were used to assess resilience, positive experiences, and coping strategies. Exploratory regression analyses were conducted to explore the relationship between resilience and demographics and mental illness history, as well as between resilience and positive experiences. Results: Overall, adolescents were somewhat resilient (M = 20.93, SD = 8.29). They reported positive experiences dur‑ ing COVID‑19, including increased empathy, compassion, gratitude, and connection with others, and reported using a range of active coping strategies. Having a mental illness history and identification as female or non‑binary gender were associated with lower resilience (Bs > 2.82, ps < 0.001). Further, resilience was associated with decreased psycho‑ logical distress (OR = 0.89, p < 0.001) and with increased positive experiences (ORs > 1.03, ps < 0.001). Conclusions: Our results indicate that Australian adolescents commonly reported positive experiences and used active coping strategies during COVID‑19. Some young people demonstrated higher levels of resilience and were able to make the most out of an unpredictable situation that severely disrupted their daily routine. However, further prospective research using longitudinal methods is necessary to examine causal relationships between variables. An implication of our findings is that resilience ‑building programs for adolescents may be effective in increasing adapt ‑ ability after adversity (e.g., climate change, bushfires, pandemics). Keywords: Resilience, Coping, Adolescent, Youth mental health, Covid‑19, Pandemic consequences have been documented in a growing num- Background ber of cross-sectional and longitudinal surveys, with the The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on overwhelming consensus being that the mental health adolescents around the world [1]. Young people have of adolescents has deteriorated during the pandemic experienced disruptions to their education, social con- [1–3]. However, it is unknown whether adolescents have nections, family relationships, future job opportunities, demonstrated psychological resilience, experienced any financial stability, and mental health. These negative positive effects, or used effective coping strategies dur - ing COVID-19. Understanding how adolescents have *Correspondence: j.beames@blackdog.org.au coped will facilitate disaster planning by guiding ways Black Dog Institute, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia © The Author(s) 2021. Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http:// creat iveco mmons. org/ licen ses/ by/4. 0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http:// creat iveco mmons. org/ publi cdoma in/ zero/1. 0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data. Beames et al. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health (2021) 15:77 Page 2 of 10 to optimise social resources and enhance psychological relaxation, staying busy, hobbies, watching television resilience [4]. or playing video games, and maintaining a routine as Psychological resilience refers to the maintenance or ways to cope [19–22]. Another survey study with young recovery of mental health after times of adversity [5–7]. adults (M = 22) in Zurich, similarly identified that age According to the developmental systems perspective, coping strategies, such as keeping a daily routine, physi- adaptive capacity depends on multiple interacting sys- cal activity, contacting friends and family, acceptance of tems e.g., [8–11]. For example, a young person is embed- the COVID-19 crisis, and cognitive restructuring, were ded in systems such as family and school, which are, in associated with reduced distress during the pandemic turn, embedded in higher order systems such as com- [23]. The results of these studies show the beneficial munity and economies. The systems perspective hypoth - effects of resilience processes on youth mental health esises that the process of adaptation depends on the during COVID-19. It remains unknown whether similar capacity of these systems to adapt in response to threat. benefits were experienced by young Australians, dur - The shift toward the systems perspective was largely ing a later phase of the pandemic that included stringent influenced by the growing threat of mass-trauma global lockdowns. adversities, including terror attacks, natural environmen- The relevance of resilience processes in the context of tal disasters, and pandemics [9, 12]. In the current paper, COVID-19 is underscored by an emerging adult litera- we focus on the individual-level. We answer questions ture. Global studies show that engagement in active cop- about how young people coped during the COVID-19 ing strategies, such as recreational activity, acceptance, outbreak and investigate factors or processes that sup- and perspective taking, were associated with lower symp- port adaptive success [8]. Individual-level factors that toms of depression, anxiety, and stress during COVID-19 promote resilience in adolescents include age and gender, [24, 25]. Results from a New Zealand adult sample also as well as active coping strategies, hope, and optimism [7, show pandemic ‘silver linings’ including a sense of com- 13]. Overall, individuals show varying levels of resilience munity and social cohesion, improved social relation- in response to stressful life events [8]. ships, personal reflection, personal development, and The use of effective coping skills to regulate emotional perceived agency [26]. Together, these results indicate experiences during, or after, adversity is an example of that the effect of COVID-19 may not be inherently or an adaptive process underpinning resilience [7]. Coping exclusively negative and that some individuals may be skills can be conceptualised in different ways [14], includ - more likely to experience positive outcomes than oth- ing differentiating between active (or approach) and pas - ers. Further investigation is needed to determine whether sive (or avoidant) coping skills. Active coping involves these findings generalise to adolescents, a group that typ - using cognitive and behavioural strategies to directly ically undergoes a unique set of developmental changes reduce or control stress, such as problem-solving, seek- and major life transitions. ing social support, and cognitive restructuring, whereas passive coping involves avoiding or disengaging from The current study sources of stress [15]. In general, active coping strategies The potential positive aspects of young people’s expe - are related to better adjustment to stress and improved rience during COVID-19 in the Australian context is mental health compared to passive strategies [15, 16]. unknown. Further, limited attention has been given to Similarly, research has also shown that active coping individual differences in resilience and the relationship strategies, such as problem-solving and social support between resilience and positive and negative experi- seeking, are important in the transition from adolescence ences during the pandemic. We addressed these gaps to early adulthood [17]. Taken together, this research by conducting a large cross-sectional, mixed methods indicates that the use of active coping skills may be indic- survey study to investigate resilience, positive experi- ative of resilience in response to COVID-19. ences, and coping strategies in Australian adolescents Several international studies have examined youth during COVID-19. In line with process-oriented resil- resilience in the context of COVID-19. One cross-sec- ience frameworks [7], including the developmental sys- tional survey study with Chinese youth conducted in tems perspective [8], resilience was conceptualised as a April 2020 found that trait resilience and use of positive dynamic process of adaptation. coping strategies were related to decreased depression The aims of this mixed-methods study were two-fold. and anxiety [18]. Positive coping encompassed active The first aim was to explore resilience, positive experi - (rather than passive) strategies, including cognitive reap- ences, and active coping strategies in Australian ado- praisal, problem-solving, and help-seeking. Converging lescents between 12 and 18  years. For the qualitative results have been found in the Unites States and Europe, component, young people were asked to answer open- with young people reportedly using social connection, ended questions about coping strategies employed during B eames et al. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health (2021) 15:77 Page 3 of 10 the pandemic. Based on previous studies from the youth Psychological distress and adult literature during COVID-19 [18, 19, 21, 24], we The Kessler-6 (K6) assessed general psychological dis - expected that adolescents would report positive experi- tress over the past 30  days [32, 33]. Each item is rated ences and engagement in primarily active (versus pas- on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 = none of the time, sive) coping strategies. The second aim was to investigate 2 = a little of the time, 3 = some of the time, 4 = most associations between resilience and demographic charac- of the time, 5 = all of the time. Total scores are calcu- teristics (age, gender, mental illness history), distress, and lated by summing all items, with a higher score indi- positive experiences. Given the early stage of COVID-19 cating higher psychological distress. Scores range from research in youth sample, our analysis of the associations 6–30. Consistent with recommended cut-off scores, between resilience and other variables were exploratory. responses were then binarised into no probable mental illness (scores 6–18) and probable mental illness (19– 30; [34]). The K6 has been widely used and validated Method with young people and has strong psychometric prop- Participants erties [35–38]. Overall, the K6 is appropriate to meas- Young people between the ages of 12–18  years were ure adolescent distress in large surveys. recruited across Australia via social media advertise- ments. Data was collected from an online survey between Positive experiences the end of June 2020 and the beginning of August 2020. A bespoke questionnaire developed by the authors for This period of data collection included the relaxing of the current study was used to assess positive experi- lockdown restrictions across Australia, with the excep- ences during COVID-19, based on previous literature tion of the city of Melbourne and the state of Victoria [39, 40]. Participants were presented with a list of five (both were subject to restrictive second wave lockdown positive experiences, including: “feeling more con- conditions during this time). Data reported here were nected with friends and family”, “feeling things are collected as part of a larger survey examining the impact more calm at home”, “feeling more grateful”, “feeling of COVID-19 on the lives and mental health of Austral- kinder and more generous towards others”, and “feeling ian adolescents, which is documented elsewhere [27]. more empathy towards others who are less fortunate than you”. Participants were asked to indicate whether Measures they had experienced any of these outcomes in the past Demographics and mental illness history week by selecting a check box. Information was collected on participants’ age and gen- der. For mental illness history, participants were asked whether they had ever been diagnosed with depression Coping strategies or anxiety by a professional (0 = no, 1 = yes, depression Participants were asked to write free text responses to only, 2 = yes, anxiety only, 3 = yes, both depression and one open-ended question that enquired about coping anxiety, 4 = I don’t know, 5 = prefer not to say). strategies used during COVID-19 (i.e., “What strategies have you used to cope?”). Responses were optional and not required to complete the survey. Resilience The 10-item Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD- RISC-10) was used to measure resilience [28]. The CD- Procedure RISC-10 assesses the availability of resilience factors, Participants were directed to the online survey plat- such as social support and self-efficacy, to maintain form (Qualtrics) after clicking on study advertisements. or regain mental health despite adversity. Each item is All respondents were required to demonstrate that rated on a five-point scale ranging from 0 = not true at they understood the study and had the capacity to pro- all, 1 = rarely true, 2 = sometimes true, 3 = often true, vide informed consent, using the Gillick Competency and 4 = true nearly all of the time. Total scores are calcu- Task [41], before providing consent and accessing the lated by summing all items, with a higher score indicating survey. Upon completion of the survey, participants higher resilience. Scores range from 0 to 40. The CD- were placed into a draw to receive one of five AUD$50 RISC-10 has demonstrated reliability and validity among vouchers. The study was approved by the UNSW adolescent samples [29, 30]. There are no defined cut-off Human Research Ethics Committee (HC200334). scores for the scale, however normative data indicated that the mean resilience score in an international adoles- cent sample was 24.7 [31]. To the best of our knowledge, normative data for the CD-RISC-10 for Australian ado- lescents are not yet available. Beames et al. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health (2021) 15:77 Page 4 of 10 Statistical analysis that indicates that coping or emotion regulation strate- Quantitative analyses gies are not inherently maladaptive or adaptive [43]. A All quantitative analyses were conducted in SPSS v. second author (SL) applied the code book to 20% of the 25. Descriptive analyses were used to report demo- responses to check coding alignment. There was high graphic and sample characteristics, and the proportion agreement between both coders (90%) and all discrepan- of young people who endorsed each positive experience cies were resolved through discussion. during the pandemic. A simultaneous multiple regression analysis was con- Results ducted to explore the relationship between demographic Sample characteristics characteristics and resilience. Resilience was regressed The final sample included 760 young people aged on age, gender, and mental illness history (i.e., a previ- between 12 and 18  years, with a mean age of 14.8  years ous diagnosis of depression and/or anxiety). Gender and (SD = 1.26). A majority were female (72%; 5% non- mental illness history were entered into the model using binary), spoke English at home (87.7%) and born in Aus- dummy codes (0 = male, 1 = female; 2 = non-binar y/ tralia (88.1%), and 9.4% identified as Aboriginal or Torres other; 0 = no diagnosis; 1 = diagnosis). Unstandardised Strait Islander. Participants lived across all Australian regression coefficients were used to describe the effects. states and territories, with the majority located in Victo- Squared semi-partial correlations were examined to fur- ria (n = 266, 35.2%), New South Wales (n = 238, 31.5%) ther understand the unique relationships between the and Queensland (n = 116, 15.3%). There were no sig - variables within the model. nificant differences between location and resilience, F(7, A binary logistic regression analysis was conducted 739) = 0.16, p = 0.99, and so data were not segregated by to explore the relationship between resilience and psy- location for the current analyses. Approximately 50% of chological distress (0 = no probable mental illness, the sample indicated that their parent or carer’s job had 1 = probable mental illness). For this analysis, psycho- been impacted by the pandemic. Just over 35% reported logical distress  was regressed on resilience. A series of being diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression in the binary logistic regression analyses were then conducted past. The mean score on the K6 was 18.08 (SD = 6.63; to explore the relationship between resilience and each range 6–30). Almost half of the sample (48.5%) scored positive experience (e.g., increased empathy; 0 = No, above the threshold that indicates psychological distress 1 = Yes). For these analyses, positive experiences were indicative of probable mental illness. For more detailed regressed on resilience. Unstandardised estimates were characteristics of the sample, see [27]. exponentiated into odds ratios. All regression assump- tions, including normality, homoscedasticity, linear- Analyses ity, and multicollinearity were met within the relevant Resilience models. Excluding outliers in the regression analyses did The mean level of resilience reported by young people not change the pattern of results, and so all outliers are was 20.93 (SD = 8.29, range = 0–40). included in the results below. Individual differences in resilience A simultaneous multiple linear regression was run to Qualitative analyses explore the relationship between resilience and age, Coding strategy gender, and mental illness history (i.e., a previous diag- All qualitative analyses were conducted in Excel. One nosis of depression and/or anxiety). The overall model author (JRB) coded responses to the open-ended ques- was significant, F(4, 656) = 23.31, p < 0.001, R = 12.4%. tion using a deductive approach. JRB developed a code Female gender, non-binary gender, and mental illness book based on coping strategies typically defined as history explained a significant proportion of the variance “active” and “passive” in the coping literature [42], as in resilience (ps < 0.001), whereas age did not (p = 0.31). well as coping strategies identified in previous COVID- Young people who identified as female and young people 19 research [18, 23]. JRB refined the codes through who identified as non-binary or another gender reported repeated immersion with the responses. In line with the significantly lower resilience levels than young people study aim, focus was given to positive or helpful strate- who identified as male. Young people with a mental ill - gies rather than those that were clearly maladaptive or ness history reported significantly lower resilience com - harmful, such as self-harm. Passive strategies were coded pared to those without a mental illness history. Squared when they were described as alleviating emotional dis- semi-partial correlations indicated that mental ill- tress or promoting positive emotions, even if only in the ness history (sr = 0.067; 6.76%) accounted for a greater short term. This approach aligns with emerging research unique proportion of the variance in resilience compared B eames et al. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health (2021) 15:77 Page 5 of 10 Table 1 Linear regression results for resilience B 95% CI for B SE B β t p R LL UL Model 0.12 Constant 29.31 21.94 36.68 3.75 7.81 0.00 Age − 0.25 − 0.74 0.23 0.25 − 0.04 − 1.02 0.31 Female − 2.83 − 4.39 − 1.27 0.79 − 0.15 − 3.57 0.00* Non‑binary − 0.35 − 7.94 − 2.75 1.32 − 0.17 − 4.05 0.00* Mental illness history − 4.61 − 5.88 − 3.34 0.65 − 0.27 − 7.13 0.00* B unstandardised regression coefficient, CI confidence interval, LL lower limit, UL upper limit, SE B standard error for the unstandardised coefficient, β standardised regression coefficient, R coefficient of determination p < 0.001 Table 2 Logistic regression for psychological distress Table 3 Logistic regressions for positive experiences OR 95% CI for OR p OR 95% CI for OR p LL UL LL UL Resilience 0.89 0.87 0.91 0.00* Feeling connected Constant 11.03 0.00 Resilience 1.06 1.04 1.08 0.00* Constant 0.14 0.00 OR odds ratio, CI confidence interval, LL lower limit, UL upper limit Calm at home p < 0.001 Resilience 1.04 1.02 1.08 0.00* Constant 0.12 0.00 Feeling grateful to age (sr = 0.0014; 0.14%) and the gender variables Resilience 1.07 1.05 1.09 0.00* (sr < 0.022; < 2.2%). See Table  1 for regression model Constant 0.17 0.00 output. Feeling kind/generous Resilience 1.05 1.03 1.07 0.00* Resilience and psychological distress Constant 0.18 0.00 A binary logistic regression was run to explore the Feeling empathy relationship between resilience and psychological dis- Resilience 1.03 1.01 1.05 0.00* tress. The overall model was significant, χ (1) = 134.92, 2 Constant 0.69 0.07 p < 0.001, and explained 22% (Nagelkerke R ) of the vari- OR odds ratio, CI confidence interval, LL lower limit, UL upper limit ance in distress. Young people who reported higher resil- p < 0.001 ience had lower odds of reporting probable mental illness compared to young people who reported higher resil- ience (OR = 0.89, p < 0.001). See Table  2 for regression higher resilience also had higher odds of feeling more model output. connected to friends and family compared to those who did not report feeling more connected. The amount of Positive experiences variance explained by each positive experience was low Over half of the sample (56.9%) reported feeling greater and variable, ranging from 2.3 to 9.5%. See Table 3 for the levels of empathy toward others who are less fortunate regression model output. than themselves, and 42.9% reported feeling more grate- ful in general. Approximately one-third of the sample reported feeling more connected with friends and family Coping strategies (34%) and feeling kinder and more generous toward oth- The coding of free-text responses to the question assess - ers (32.1%). In comparison to these positive experiences, ing coping strategies resulted in 16 categories. Of these experiencing feelings that things were calmer at home categories, 14 were of active coping strategies and 2 were was endorsed by fewer young people (23%). Further, the of passive coping strategies. See Table  4 for a summary logistic regression models indicated that resilience was of descriptive statistics for all categories reported and significantly related each type of positive experience, Table 5 for definitions and example quotes. ORs > 1.03, ps < 0.001. For example, young people with Beames et al. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health (2021) 15:77 Page 6 of 10 Table 4 Summary of descriptive statistics for coded coping study of older adolescents between 16–17  years (i.e., strategies 26.5/40 on the CD-RISC-10; [44]). Increased psychologi- cal distress has been demonstrated in young people dur- Coping strategy n % ing COVID-19 e.g., [2, 27]. Given our finding that there Active is a negative relationship between resilience and distress, Socialising 180 37.89 it is not surprising that resilience levels in our sample of Hobbies 116 24.42 young people were comparatively reduced overall during Physical exercise 60 12.63 the pandemic. Young people are vulnerable to stressors Psychological strategies 42 8.84 relating to family, friends, and schools [45], all of which Routine 34 7.16 have been significantly disrupted by COVID-19. Our Focusing on the positives 31 6.53 results also indicated that some young people were less Help‑seeking 27 5.68 resilient than others (e.g., those who identified as female Emotional expression 21 4.42 or non-binary, those who reported a history of anxiety/ Psychological treatment/therapy 21 4.42 depression). Identifying those with increased vulnerabil- Time for self 11 2.32 ity will be important to aid optimal recovery in response Limit screen time 6 1.26 to future stressors (e.g., climate change, pandemics, Spirituality/religion 4 0.84 bushfires). Resilience-building programs are one way Being informed 3 0.63 to facilitate adaptive functioning in the face of adver- Humour 2 0.42 sity. Resilience-building interventions generally aim to Passive strengthen protective factors [6], which can be internal Distraction 51 10.74 (e.g., coping skills) or external (e.g., family relationships, Rest/sleep/relax 29 6.11 community support and available services). Many resil- ience-based approaches are now available, with increas- ing evidence that they help to prevent decline or regain A total of 596 (78.42%) young people provided a psychological functioning in adolescence after adversity response to the open-ended coping strategies question. [46–48]. Further intervention research is necessary to Of these, 475 (79.70%) responses were coded as coping determine the beneficial effects of these approaches for strategies that had the potential for positive effects on specific sub-groups of young people (e.g., different ages, mental health and wellbeing. The total number of cop - genders, sexualities). ing strategies used ranged between 1 and 4, with a mean In our sample of young people, mental illness history of 1.40 (SD = 0.67). The most common coping strategies was more strongly related to resilience compared to age were active, including socialising (37.89%), engaging in and gender. This finding corresponds to prior COVID- hobbies (24.4%), and doing physical exercise (12.63%). 19 research in young people showing that mental illness Other active coping strategies reported included using history is related to higher distress [18, 27]. Young peo- psychological strategies such as perspective taking and ple with a mental illness history may be more vulnerable relaxation (8.84%), keeping a routine (7.16%), focusing on to increased threat caused by COVID-19. Vulnerabil- the positives (6.53%), and help-seeking (5.68%). Overall, ity may be explained by having fewer skills to manage passive coping strategies, including distraction (10.74%) distress and facilitate adaptation, or by an inability to and sleeping or relaxing/sleeping (6.11%), were less fre- use acquired coping skills effectively when the broader quently reported than active coping strategies. system is threatened. This interpretation aligns with research showing that effective emotion regulation is dependent on context [49], with flexible selection and Discussion timing of strategy use linked to better emotional out- To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first to comes e.g., [43, 50]. explore the positive aspects of young people’s psycho- One resilience-building skill that might facilitate logical experience during COVID-19 within the Austral- bouncing back from adversity is active coping. Evidence ian context. Our results add to the emerging literature for the use and effectiveness of active coping strategies showing that the experience of young people during during COVID-19 has been documented in previous COVID-19 is not exclusively negative, and that positive research [18, 19, 23], which we replicated in our cross- experiences are common. sectional study. We found that the most reported strate- Resilience levels in our sample were slightly lower than gies were socialising, engaging in hobbies, and exercise. normative levels reported in an international sample with These findings emphasise the importance of peer rela - a similar age range before COVID-19 [31]. Resilience lev- tionships for young people [51], as well as their capacity els were also lower than a large representative Australian B eames et al. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health (2021) 15:77 Page 7 of 10 Table 5 Summary of categories in open ended responses about coping strategies used during COVID19 Coping strategy Definition Example Active Socialising Talking, hanging out, or connecting with family or friends (faceto face or using “Talking to friends and family” technology) “I video call my friends in some of my classes and after school so I’m not lonely. We often do schoolwork, homework, exercise/workouts or just hang out” Hobbies Any kind of activity enacted for enjoyment, pleasure, or achievement, such as “Doing what i like, my hobbies. drawing, dancing, music, eating” listening to music, art, reading, or gaming “Indulging myself in activities I enjoy, like music and gaming” Physical exercise Any kind of physical activity, such as team sports, walking, running, yoga, or “Going outside and exercising” other references to working out “Walking a few hours a day” Psychological strategies Active coping strategies, such as breathing, perspective taking, using calm/ “I have used breathing exercises to calm myself down” relaxation apps, and meditation “I tried most of the anxiety strategies I leant [sic] when I saw a psychologist last year (eg. Socratic questions, meditation, staying in the moment, etc.)” Routine Deliberate engagement in regular activities, such as schoolwork/study (or Having a schedule especially with school work, arranging them into hours of the returning to school), making plans and to do lists, basic hygiene (e.g., brushing day and giving myself breaks in between teeth, getting dressed), or daily chores (e.g., making bed), eating healthily Focusing on the positives Taking a positive outlook on the current situation and the future, or other refer “I try to stay optimistic” ences to doing the best that they can “Just saying it will be okay, you can make it. This will be better soon” Helpseeking Asking for help from friends, family, teachers, or professionals, including broad “I’ve been talking to my parents more (about mental health) and I’ve found that references to talking to other people about problems this helps” “I spoke to a teacher that I have for multiple classes ab[out] a couple of the things I’ve been struggling with after I had a incident in her class” Emotional expression Outward displays of emotions to self or to others (e.g., crying), including “Honestly I’ve just cried a lot” through drawing/writing “I have a sketch book where I draw my emotions and thoughts” Psychological treatment/therapy Seeing a mental health professional for support and/or engaging in therapy “I’ve been seeing a psychologist” (including counselling, psychologists, medications) “Talking to my therapist” Time for self Taking time out to reset and spending time on own (but not explicitly framed “Spending time to concentrate on a particular task, and chilling for my own self ” as a way to avoid problems) Limit screen time Restricting the amount of time spent using technology “I have set myself up a screen time limit to reduce my screen time” Spirituality/religion Any reference to religion, spirituality, or God “Have faith in God” “Reading my bible” Being informed Staying up to date with information about COVID19 “Watching the news so I knew exactly what was going on and no one else was telling me false stuff ” Humour Any reference to humour “Humour” Passive Distraction Deliberately not paying attention or trying to distract from the current situa “Focusing on something away from anything involving the virus” tion, or other references to keeping busy (includes TV/Netflix/YouTube) “trying to keep my mind off the pandemic and issues going on at the moment” Rest/sleep/relax Any mention of resting, sleeping, napping, or relaxing (coded as separate to “Mainly just having a good nights’ sleep” routine when identified as a coping strategy to boost functioning, rather than maintaining regular sleep/wake cycles) Beames et al. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health (2021) 15:77 Page 8 of 10 to engage in activities that potentially enhance positive collection, which was necessary in the context of a rap- mood. We also found evidence for the use of passive cop- idly evolving public health disaster, selection bias may ing strategies, including distraction and sleep or relaxing. limit generalisability to the broader population of Aus- Although our cross-sectional findings cannot extrapolate tralian young people. For example, 72% of our sample causality, based on the resilience framework [7], the use were female, 9.4% identified as Aboriginal and/or Tor - of coping strategies likely increases the likelihood of posi- res Strait Islander, and 88.1% were born in Australia. tive adaptation. These percentages are higher than recent population In addition to coping strategies, other important psy- estimates of gender, First Nations identification, and chosocial resilience factors include optimism and hope country of origin among Australian young people [56]. [52]. Adolescents in our sample reported feeling more Sampling methods have been identified as a critical empathy, gratitude, connectedness, and kinder, more issue in COVID-19 research [57]. generous feelings toward others. Increased resilience Another limitation was that our data collection meth- was associated with these positive experiences, con- ods relied on retrospective self-reports and open-ended verging with other research that has linked challenging responses from young people. This methodology is sus - experiences with wellbeing and reduced psychopathol- ceptible to response bias, such as social desirability, ogy [53]. These results are also consistent with findings which can occur even when surveys are anonymous. that adults have the capacity to experience ‘silver linings’ Integration of other perspectives, such as from parents, and unexpected positive outcomes in the midst of the school teachers, or school counsellors/psychologists, COVID-19 pandemic [26]. Future research is needed to and use of validated measures (e.g., of resilience, coping determine whether positive experiences can be sustained, strategies or positive experiences), might help to cor- and whether adolescents with an affinity for focusing on roborate reports from young people and increase reli- the positives are more resilient than those who do not (or ability of findings in future studies. Subjective measures vice versa). of resilience have received criticism in the literature. Our exploratory results indicate that gender might There are no “gold standard” measures of resilience, influence vulnerability to adversity and, by extension, with all requiring additional validation work [58]. Spe- capacity for positive experiences. Young people who cific to the CD-RISC-10, lack of normative data in Aus - identified as female or non-binary/another gender tralian adolescents means that findings in the current reported significantly lower resilience. Although a com - sample are difficult to contextualise. However, the CD- parison to pre-pandemic levels was not available, this RISC-10 is one of the most frequently used scales and general pattern of results is consistent with prior research has excellent psychometric properties [59]. Overall, our [18, 54, 55]. Given that young females have higher rates findings add to the extant literature on youth resilience of mental health problems, particularly internalising dis- and build the case for positive experiences in the con- orders such as anxiety and depression, they may be more text of COVID-19. vulnerable during prolonged stressors. Gender differ - Finally, this study was cross-sectional and correla- ences in resilience are not well understood and further tional. This design means that causal conclusions can - research is needed to explore how gender affects vulner - not be made about resilience, coping, and other positive ability to and recovery after stressful life events. Identify- outcomes, nor about the long-term positive effects of ing vulnerable individuals who are struggling to cope will COVID-19 on Australian youth. We cannot compare help allocate mental health resources to those who need the resilience levels reported in our sample to pre-pan- them most in the aftermath of COVID-19. demic levels. Repeated assessments of resilience over the long-term are important to explore changes in resil- ience levels as COVID-19 progresses (e.g., emergence Limitations of the Delta  or Omicron variants) and in response to The current study had several limitations. Given our government and community initiatives. In particular, focus on internalising symptoms (e.g., psychologi- there is a pressing need for prospective longitudinal cal distress), we did not examine externalising disor- resilience studies [7] that assess multiple developmen- ders. Examining the relationship between resilience tal systems (e.g., individual, family, and economic; 13). and externalising disorders in the context of large- Assessing multiple levels has the advantage of docu- scale public health emergencies is an area for future menting cascading consequences, whether positive or research. We also used a convenience sample of young negative, of large-scale environmental stressors such as people that was recruited online using established net- COVID-19. Understanding the full impact of COVID- works within the Black Dog Institute. Although this 19 is critical to developing effective mental health dis - approach facilitated timely administration and data aster readiness and response plans for young people. B eames et al. 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Journal

Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental HealthSpringer Journals

Published: Dec 18, 2021

Keywords: Resilience; Coping; Adolescent; Youth mental health; Covid-19; Pandemic

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