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Effects of coping style, social relationships and support on New Zealanders well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic

In early 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, the New Zealand Government implemented unprecedented measures such as lockdowns and social distancing. This research investigated the relationships between different coping styles, social support, social networks, social activity, and the impact on the mental health of adult New Zealanders during July and August 2020. At this point, New Zealand had successfully eliminated COVID-19 from the community (with the only cases being reported in quarantine facilities from arrivals to the country). Adult participants (18 years or above) were recruited in New Zealand through Facebook community groups and flyers placed in community locations such as medical centres, schools, and university campuses, to participate in an online survey between 13th July 2020 and 11th August 2020. The survey included: demographic questions, study-specific COVID-19 related questions, and seven standardised measures. We assessed three aspects of social support (perceived social support (Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (MPSS)), social network (Lubben Social Network Scale – revised (LSNR-R), social activities (Social Activity Log (SAL)), coping styles (Brief COPE), depression, anxiety, and stress (Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS)), post-traumatic stress (The Abbreviated PCL-C - The Post-Traumatic Checklist), and post-traumatic growth (Post Traumatic Growth Inventory). Our research investigated predictors of well-being and distress, including demographic variables (age group and gender), previous mental health diagnoses, coping styles, and social support. We hypothesised that higher scores in dysfunctional coping styles and lower scores on social support measures would be associated with higher distress and lower well-being. Our final sample contained 698 valid responses, consisting of 67% female (n=468), 31% male (n=217) and 2% other gender or did not specify (n=13). Our models significantly predicted variance in depression (55%), anxiety (48%), stress (52%), PTSD (56%), and post-traumatic growth (41%). Mean scores for depression, anxiety, stress, and dysfunctional coping styles were significantly higher for the youngest age group (18- to 24-year-olds) compared to older age groups. In addition, 18- to 24-year-olds experienced the biggest loss of perceived social support and size of social networks since the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in our regression models, the dysfunctional coping styles of behavioural disengagement and self-blame and a previous mental health diagnosis were consistently among the most common predictors for depression, anxiety, stress, and PTSD. Higher perceived social support was associated with lower levels of depression and PTSD, and higher social activity was associated with lower depression and stress scores. Furthermore, significant common predictors of distress included reduced perceived social support since the COVID-19 pandemic (for anxiety and stress) and social networks (for depression and PTSD). Social activity and adaptive coping styles (active coping, positive reframing, religion, emotional support) were significant predictors of post-traumatic growth. Overall, coping styles accounted for more variance (across all mental health outcomes) than age group, gender, previous mental health diagnoses or social support variables. This research highlighted the disproportional effect that the COVID-19 pandemic was having on younger adults in New Zealand and stressed the need for strong social support and education on adaptive coping styles to reduce distress and improve well-being.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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