A multi-method investigation of the relationship between life stress, coping strategies and psychological distress in adolescents
The relationship between life stress, coping strategies and psychological distress was investigated in a non-clinical population of thirteen to fifteen year olds (N = 159). The main aim of the research was to evaluate whether the effectiverneffective dichotomy was, clinically, the most useful way to understand coping responses. The study combined traditional psychological and social constructionist perspectives and utilised a multimethod approach. The Birleson Depression Inventory (Birleson, 1981), the Life Events Checklist (LEC) (Johnson and McCutcheon, 1980) and the Adolescent Coping Scale (ACS) (Frydenberg and Lewis, 1993) were administered to all participants. A sample of twenty was then interviewed using a semi-structured interview schedule which combined questions from the Coping Process Interview (Seiffge-Krenke, 1995) and Narrative Therapy (White, 1995). Quantitative data was statistically analysed and qualitative data was described using content analyses of the interviews. Levels of depression were shown to be relatively high amongst this group. The results revealed that minor life events were as salient for this population as more major change. Few life events were universally experienced as either positive or negative. Results confirmed that there were significant correlations between coping strategies used and levels of depression. `Solving the Problem' strategies were related to low levels of depression while `Non-Productive Coping' was related to higher depression levels. The adoption of these constructs as respectively `effective' and `ineffective' was not supported due to both the poor to moderate internal reliability of the Adolescent Coping Scale and the findings of the qualitative analysis. Content analyses of the interviews suggested that there was a broad range of coping strategies that the participants themselves considered effective, including `nonproductive' responses. Appraisal was shown to be a key element of the coping process. The interviews also revealed that coping responses changed over time and were neither static in terms of the situation nor the individual. These results were discussed in relation to findings in the literature and implications for clinical intervention and future research were highlighted.