Psychological Distress in Adolescents: The Role of Coping Response And Perceived Emotional Support

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Allen, Frances
Desmond, Sharon
ABSTRACT Title of dissertation: PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTRESS IN ADOLESCENTS: THE ROLE OF COPING RESPONSE AND PERCEIVED EMOTIONAL SUPPORT Frances D. Allen, Doctor of Philosophy, 2003 Dissertation directed by: Professor Sharon Desmond Department of Public and Community Health Adolescence is the developmental period that serves as the bridge between childhood and adulthood. It is a time of rapid physical and psychological growth and provokes changes in social functioning. The adolescent faces increased demands and stress and must learn to successfully and positively adapt to a variety of increasingly complex situations. The purpose of this study was to examine the role of the type of coping and the level of perceived emotional support in mediating the relationship between levels of stress and symptoms of psychological distress. A secondary data analysis was carried out on data gathered from the administration of a confidential questionnaire (N=889) at an urban high school with a predominantly African-American population (77%). Frequency distributions were used to place subjects into high and low categories for levels of perceived stress related to school, levels of perceived stress outside of school, symptoms of psychological distress, type of coping and perceived emotional support. Chi-square analyses involving gender, ethnicity and grade level and each of the five variables produced six statistically significant findings (p < .05). Levels of perceived stress outside of school differed by gender and grade level, symptoms of psychological distress and level of perceived emotional support differed significantly by gender with females reporting higher levels of both. Problem-focused coping was also associated with gender (more females used problem-focused coping than males) and with grade level (12th graders used more problem-focused coping than all other grade levels). Subjects were then placed into adjustment groups based upon levels of perceived stress and symptoms of psychological distress. Four adjustment levels were identified (“adapters”, “at risk”, “positively adjusted” and “negatively adjusted”) in an effort to examine differences in the type of coping and level of perceived emotional support used by each group. Chi square analyses were performed with adjustment groups and type of coping and adjustment groups and perceived level of emotional support. No significant relationship was found for either adjustment group with type of coping or with level of perceived emotional support. Possible explanations for the findings were discussed along with recommendations for future research.