Indian Journal of Psychiatric Nursing

ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Year
: 2022  |  Volume : 19  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 28--34

SocioDemographic variables and social connectedness as predictors of coping mechanisms in college students during COVID-19 pandemic


Samina Bano, Tanushree Deka 
 Department of Psychology, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Samina Bano
Department of Psychology, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi - 110 025
India

Abstract

Purpose: The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has left the student community in distress. They have had to vacate their hostels and go home, which has restyled their enjoyable campus life into virtual online classes. The technical glitches and uncertainty of the future kept them in the doldrum. Our study explored the subgroups of socio-demographic variables (gender, educational qualifications, history of mental health condition, current experience of mental health condition, and current accommodation) and Social Connectedness as predictors of coping strategies during the pandemic in university students of Delhi-NCR. Method and Materials: A cross-sectional research design was implemented. Through purposive sampling, 248 students were recruited. The sample consisted of males and females aged 18-34 years (Mean=21, SD=2.86). Data was collected using Google forms consisting of the Sociodemographic Form, The Brief Cope and Social Connectedness Scale. Online informed consent was taken from the participants. Results: Regression results suggested that the current experience of mental health conditions predicted active emotional and avoidant emotional coping strategies. Social Connectedness positively predicted avoidant emotional coping strategy and negatively predicting problem focus strategies in the COVID-19 pandemic. Significant differences were found in active emotional and avoidant emotional coping strategies between students having a past and current history of mental health conditions (anxiety/depression) vs. those who were in sound mental health. Students with past experience of mental health issue were reported to be significantly more socially connected than who did not have any mental health issue. Conclusions: The potential effects of Social Connectedness, a history of the mental health condition on coping strategies during COVID-19, were found to be necessary.



How to cite this article:
Bano S, Deka T. SocioDemographic variables and social connectedness as predictors of coping mechanisms in college students during COVID-19 pandemic.Indian J Psy Nsg 2022;19:28-34


How to cite this URL:
Bano S, Deka T. SocioDemographic variables and social connectedness as predictors of coping mechanisms in college students during COVID-19 pandemic. Indian J Psy Nsg [serial online] 2022 [cited 2022 Aug 15 ];19:28-34
Available from: https://www.ijpn.in/text.asp?2022/19/1/28/349895


Full Text



 Introduction



The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown effects

The COVID-19 Pandemic has aroused widespread concern all around the world. To curb its spread the Indian Government imposed total lockdown on March 22, 2020, which continued till May end. Along with other public spaces, a decision was taken that all educational institutes will be closed, and classes were suspended.[1] Students had to vacate their hostel rooms in many universities and return to their places of origin or stay with their local guardians or friends.

A new challenge was the switch over to virtual teaching platforms by most universities. Accessibility to a smartphone or a laptop with a highspeed Internet connection was a challenge. Other matters of attention related to the continuation of studies, accessibility of books/journals, the commencement of examinations, and future job prospects loomed large in the students. Each professional year is unique in its academic requirements, and failure to fulfill these negatively impact the students' career. The initial lockdown situation in India proved to be a unique experience for people, which was incomparable to any situation that students have undergone. Many students faced isolation (due to the disease or to avoid it), and such disconnection disrupted their regular meet-ups.[2] Studies during infectious diseases like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) have shown that apart from physical health, it takes a toll on the students' mental health, and they utilize different coping mechanisms to overcome stress.[3],[4]

Coping strategies

In literature, coping mechanisms are categorized broadly as problem-focused, emotion-focused, and avoidant coping strategies.[5] When an individual makes an effort to change the situation and take constructive action to deal with the stress, the person seems to have utilized the problem-focused coping strategy. Emotion-focused coping strategies enable an individual to work on his own emotions or seek support from others to deal with it. When an individual uses denial, withdrawal, or distancing himself from the source of stress, he utilizes avoidant coping strategies.[5] While problem-focused coping is linked to resiliency, Avoidant and emotional coping are related to psychological distress such as anxiety and depression.[6],[7] Literature have shown that denial, avoidance, dependency, substance abuse has been used as less adaptive coping mechanisms in earthquake survivors.[8]

During the pandemic, the situation was and has been highly unpredictable and beyond our control. Since effective coping mechanisms have related health outcomes, it can be argued that studying predictors of coping mechanisms is imperative.

Sociodemographic variables and coping

Literature provides insight into different demographic factors such as gender, year of study, current accommodation, experiences with mental health conditions, etc., which influence the coping strategies.

Gender can be a significant determinant in perceiving a situation as stressful or not. Women are prone to emotional responses, whereas men resolve to more problem-focused strategies.[9] Interestingly, in another study, young adults and especially males, utilized self-distraction as coping strategy in the aftermath of an earthquake.[8] Hence, mixed findings related to gender and adverse situations give more reason to explore the gender differences in this pandemic situation.

Academic years in the University have a significant role to play. Studies found that problem-solving coping capacity of Nursing students decreased when students moved from the first year to the 4th year.[10] In addition, the type of accommodation has a role to play; better coping was displayed by people who stayed with families than those staying in a hostel or home.[10] Further, it was found that those experiencing mental health conditions utilize more avoidant coping strategies such as denial, withdrawal, and wishful thinking.[11] Fatima and Tahir found state and trait anxiety as positive predictors of active avoidance and negative predictors of problem-focused coping, respectively.[12] The current COVID-19 pandemic has been no exception in spreading angst and worriment in people, leading to an increased incidence of anxiety disorders.[13]

Social connectedness and coping

Social connectedness refers to feeling united with the larger world, the sense of being a part of a global community.[14] Ye et al. found that the relationship between COVID-19-related stressful experiences and acute stress disorder was mediated by social support.[15] Henceforth, social connectedness linked to better emotional and physical health is an imperative construct to understand.

The current study

The current study explores the coping strategies of students studying in the Delhi-NCR region of India during the pandemic as a criterion variable. Since the lockdown got imposed just after the ethical clearance so lockdown effect cannot be ruled out, in fact, that became the main context of the study. Voltmer et al. in their study emphasized the vulnerability of the student population and proposed the need for studies to their coping mechanisms and factors that can act as buffer agents.[16] University students are the backbone for developing countries, studies are needed on different factors influencing coping responses among students. Therefore, the study aims to study the demographic variables (gender, educational qualifications, current accommodation and history of mental health condition, current experience of mental health condition) and social connectedness as predictors of coping among college students during the pandemic.

Following hypotheses were proposed: (H1) There will be a significant difference in the level of the three coping strategies - Problem-focused, Active Emotional, and Avoidant emotional based on the Gender, Educational level, Current accommodation, Past and Current Experience of Mental health conditions (anxiety/depression) among the students. (H2) There will be a significant relationship between Social Connectedness and the three coping strategies-Problem-focused, Active Emotional, and Avoidant emotional. (H3) Demographic variables and Social Connectedness will predict the level of the three coping strategies - Problem-focused, Active Emotional, and Avoidant emotional.

 Methods



Participants

For the current study, for 1 month (April 15, 2020 – May 15, 2020), online data were collected. Total 249 students were recruited from various universities and colleges of New Delhi-NCR, India. One participant was excluded from the study due to a lack of fulfillment of the age criteria. The final data of 248 participants of the study were considered for further analysis. The participants ranged in age from 18 to 34 years (mean = 21, standard deviation [SD] =2.86).

Procedure

Owing to the nature of the pandemic and consequent Lockdown, face-to-face data collection was not feasible; hence, it was done virtually via Google forms. The form included a participant information sheet, consent form, socio-demographic form, and questionnaire for data collection. Those participants who provided consent for the study were included in the study. Ethical considerations for data collection were followed.

Measures

Socio demographic form

Student's gender, Educational Qualifications, Current Accommodation, Past and Current history of mental health conditions (anxiety/depression) were collected.

The brief COPE

The Brief cope developed by Carver is a 28-item measure of coping strategies.[17] Respondents indicate what they usually do when they experience a stressful event. The reliability coefficients for the 14 subscales range from 0.50 to 0.90.[18] The scale has shown discriminant and convergent validity. In a study by Horwitz in 2011, the 14 subscales were divided into three higher-order categories: Emotion-focused coping, problem-focused coping, and avoidant coping.[19] For this study, the Cronbach alpha coefficient was found out to be 0.87.

Social connectedness scale

The Social Connectedness Scale was developed by Lee and Robbins.[20] The scale consists of 20 items that evaluate the participant's level of belongingness and feelings of bonding and connecting to the social world. The reliability of the scale was found to be α =0.91. For this study, the Cronbach alpha coefficient was found out to be 0.87.

Data analysis

Data were analyzed using SPSS 21 software (Edit on software name- JASP 0.12.2 software.). Data analysis revealed no missing values in the data. Assumptions of multivariate analysis were checked. Examination of residual scatterplots revealed that the assumptions of normally distributed errors, linearity, and homoscedasticity were met. An analysis of standard residuals was carried out, which showed that the data contained no outliers. Durbin-Watson statistics for regression analyses with Problem-focused, Active Emotional, and Avoidant Emotional as outcome variables revealed independence of errors. Tests that measured the assumption of collinearity did not indicate multicollinearity of the predictor variables. In the study differences in mean level between categorical variables were evaluated via t-test and Hedges' g effect size statistic was calculated (interpretation: Negligible <0.20 <small <0.50 <medium <0.80 <large). The effect size was assessed via η2 (interpretation: Negligible <0.01 <small <0.06< medium <0.14 <large).[21] For gender comparison, given the low number of people who responded “other” (n = 0) only men and women have been included.

Significant predictors from the analysis were utilized to understand the unique contribution of each of the predictors in explaining variance in the coping mechanism. The significant categorical predictors were computed into dummy variables as follows: For “Past history of mental health condition,” “Presence of mental health condition” was taken as the reference (past history, yes = 1, past history, no = 2). For “Current experience of mental health condition,” “Presence of mental health condition” was taken as the reference (current experience, yes = 1, current experience, no = 2).

 Results



Sociodemographic data

A majority of participants were female (63.3%), while 36.7% of participants were male. 67% of participants were in their Graduation, 27.8% were in their post-Graduation, and 4.4% were in Doctoral studies. The majority of the cohort was living with family (82.3%), while 13.3% were living in a shared space, and 4.4% of the participants were living alone. 33% of the participants had a history of mental health conditions (anxiety/depression), 69% did not have a history of mental health conditions (anxiety/depression). 31.5% had a current experience of mental health conditions (anxiety/depression), while 68.5% of the participants did not have current experience of mental health conditions (anxiety/depression).

Demographic differences in coping strategies

Results of the univariate analysis - t-test and one-way ANOVAs, investigating the categorical predictors, i.e., demographic variables, are summarized in [Table 1].{Table 1}

Students having a past history of mental health condition (anxiety/depression) (M = 25.70 SD = 5.12) used more Active emotional coping strategies than students who did not have a past history of mental health condition (M = 23.74 SD = 5.95) (t(246) =0.949 P = 0.013, ƞp2 = 0.34; a large effect size). Students going through a current experience of mental health condition (anxiety/depression) (M = 26.35 SD = 4.94) used more Active emotional coping strategies than students who were not going through a mental health condition (M = 23.42 SD = 5.89) (t(246) =3.81, P < 0.001, ƞp2 = 0.52; a large effect size). Students going through a current experience of mental health condition (anxiety/depression) (M = 21.02 SD = 4.64) used more avoidant emotional coping strategies than students who were not going through a mental health condition (M = 18.60 SD = 5.58) (t(246) =3.33, P < 0.001, ƞp2 = 0.45; a large effect size). The other categorical predictors (gender, educational qualification, current accommodation) were not associated with the coping strategies.

Demographic differences in social connectedness

The results of the univariate analysist-test and one-way ANOVAs, investigating the demographic variables and social connectedness are summarized in [Table 2].{Table 2}

Students having a past history of mental health condition (anxiety/depression) (M = 68.62 SD = 20.25) were more socially connected than students who did not have a past history of mental health condition (M = 61.69 SD = 15.50) (t(246) =2.94 P < 0.00, ƞp2 = 0.78; a large effect size). Gender, educational qualification, and current accommodation were not associated with social connectedness.

Social connectedness in relation to coping strategies

Pearson's correlation coefficients between the sum score of each dimension of Brief Cope (Problem-focused, Active Emotional, and Avoidant Emotional) and the continuous predictor-Social Connectedness are provided in [Table 3]. It can be seen that social Connectedness is negatively associated with problem-focused coping mechanisms (P < 0.05) and positively correlated with avoidant emotional coping strategies (P < 0.01){Table 3}

Multiple regression analysis of social connectedness and demographic variables on coping strategy dimensions

To investigate which predictors uniquely explained the variation in the three coping strategy dimensions, the significant continuous predictor-social Connectedness and the significant categorical dummy predictors-past history of mental health condition and current experience of mental health condition were entered into the regression models. [Table 4] provides the standardized regression coefficients of the predictors in 3 linear regression models.{Table 4}

The first model that predicted problem-focused coping strategy came out to be nonsignificant. The second model explained 7% of the variance in the active emotional coping strategy (F [8, 247) =2.47, P < 0.05). The presence of mental health condition (anxiety/depression) was correlated with more frequent use of active emotional coping strategies (β = 0.191). The third model explained 9% of the variance in the avoidant emotional coping strategy (F [8, 247) = 3.07, P < 0.01). The presence of mental health condition (anxiety/depression) proved to be statistically significant with respect to using avoidant emotional coping strategy (β = 0.232). In addition, social Connectedness significantly and positively predicted avoidant emotional strategies (β = 0.168). The predictor – past history of mental health condition did not significantly predict active emotional coping strategy.

 Discussion



The current study findings depicted no significant gender difference in the coping strategies that they had utilized to deal with the pandemic. This must be because the experiences related to the pandemic are pretty unique, and gender-specific roles did not influence the kind of coping strategies they utilized. The present study is in line with Yikealo et al. findings, where no statistically significant relationship between gender and positive and negative stress coping strategies was found.[22] It is contrary to previous studies where differences were found in the coping style utilized by both genders.[9],[23]

In our study, the coping strategies did not differ significantly between the three seemingly different college populations [Table 1]. The results were not consistent with Ickes et al. who found PG students utilized more problem-solving strategies than UG students.[24] Therefore, the physical presence or absence of friends and family did not notably affect the Student's coping response, since the situation was unique and was perceived stressful regardless of support available to them.

Students with a history of mental health deficiency (anxiety/depression) utilized more active emotional coping strategies than students with sound mental health [Table 1] and [Table 4xs]. It seemed that the students put efforts to alter their experience of negative emotion resulting from the uncertain situation of the pandemic through acceptance, garnering social support, and humor.

Current experience of mental health condition was a significant predictor of utilizing active emotional and avoidant emotional coping strategies [Table 4]. Studies in literature found association between maladaptive coping strategies and anxiety.[25],[26] Studies reveal, college students often develop immature strategies when faced with pressure caused by public health emergencies.[27] Gan et al. found that avoidant coping strategies were utilized more in comparison to problem-focused strategies by college students to deal with SARS which was too an uncontrollable stressor.[28]

Interestingly in an unexpected result, students who had a past experience of mental health issues reported being significantly more connected [Table 3]. In contrast, Lee et al. found that healthy people validated a better sense of social connectedness.[29] The feeling of connecting with people might have acted as a protective factor during times of stress.[30] This might be because, during times of crisis, these people appraised their relationships to be essential, which in turn supported them in dire situations. They would have engaged in connecting with people to get emotional support.

Results showed that social connectedness positively predicted avoidant emotional coping strategies [Table 4]. The sense of belonging might have helped them to seek reassurance and gain hope for a better future. A sense of denial and avoidance of actively engaging in activities to solve the situation might have lowered their emotional reactions. Avoidant strategies allow gradual recognition of the threat and might be used when students perceive their efforts ineffective to deal with a difficult situation.[31]

Results also found that social connectedness negatively predicts problem-focused strategies in the COVID-19 pandemic [Table 4]. Students might have found it easy to utilize the sense of connection to find comfort and distraction. They did not have a solution-focused approach at this time since the pandemic situation is seen as an uncontrollable situation. Lazarus and Gonzales et al. noted that problem-focused coping predominates in a controllable situation.[5],[32] Páez mentioned that coping dimensions are unstable and depend on the type of stress and people that are being studied.[33] Therefore, it is interesting to understand the range of coping strategies used by students in the lockdown situation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Limitation

The current study had some limitations. The direction of causality cannot be guaranteed because of using cross-sectional data, and the use of self-reported measures might lead to a possible social desirability bias. Utilizing scales to measure the severity of anxiety/depression would have added more scope to the study.

 Conclusions



31.5% of 248 participants reported that they were experiencing anxiety or depressive symptoms. These students were found to have utilized active emotional coping strategies (e.g., use of emotional support, venting, positive reframing, humor, acceptance, religion) and avoidant coping strategies (e.g., distraction, denial, and behavioral disengagement). Students who had experienced anxiety and depressive symptoms before were reported to be more socially connected than who did not have any mental health issue. They could not come up with active efforts to manage the stressful situation and used social connections to distract from the unprecedented times.

It is vital that the students are motivated and educated about taking help from the counseling services provided by their college. It is suggested that through the use of online psychological measures, regular monitoring of the stress, anxiety, and depression levels of the students can be done, and issues addressed through group therapy sessions. Training can be given to college counselors and teachers handling students to deal with the pandemic and offering support.

It is suggested that other variables such as personality types and other intervening variables that affect coping responses could be explored in further studies. Comparative studies with the older population or employed population might provide rich information about the difference in coping strategies utilized while facing the pandemic.

Acknowledgment

Prof. Naved Iqbal, for his guidance in layout, and Mr. Prakhar Srivastava, for some technical help.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

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