Psychological distress, fear and coping among Malaysians during the COVID-19 pandemic

PLoS One. 2021 Sep 10;16(9):e0257304. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0257304. eCollection 2021.


Introduction: The COVID-19 pandemic has enormously affected the psychological well-being, social and working life of millions of people across the world. This study aimed to investigate the psychological distress, fear and coping strategies as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated factors among Malaysian residents.

Methods: Participants were invited to an online cross-sectional survey from Aug-Sep 2020. The study assessed psychological distress using the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, level of fear using the Fear of COVID-19 Scale, and coping strategies using the Brief Resilient Coping Scale. Univariate and multivariate logistic regression analyses were conducted to adjust for potential confounders.

Results: The mean age (±SD) of the participants (N = 720) was 31.7 (±11.5) years, and most of them were females (67.1%). Half of the participants had an income source, while 216 (30%) identified themselves as frontline health or essential service workers. People whose financial situation was impacted due to COVID-19 (AOR 2.16, 95% CIs 1.54-3.03), people who drank alcohol in the last four weeks (3.43, 1.45-8.10), people who were a patient (2.02, 1.39-2.93), and had higher levels of fear of COVID-19 (2.55, 1.70-3.80) were more likely to have higher levels of psychological distress. Participants who self-isolated due to exposure to COVID-19 (3.12, 1.04-9.32) and who had moderate to very high levels of psychological distress (2.56, 1.71-3.83) had higher levels of fear. Participants who provided care to a family member/patient with a suspected case of COVID-19 were more likely to be moderately to highly resilient compared to those who did not.

Conclusion: Vulnerable groups of individuals such as patients and those impacted financially during COVID-19 should be supported for their mental wellbeing. Behavioural interventions should be targeted to reduce the impact of alcohol drinking during such crisis period.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • COVID-19* / psychology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Malaysia / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Mental Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics*
  • Psychological Distress*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult

Grants and funding

Telstra Health provided support in the form of salary for author FS. However, the authors did not receive direct or specific funding for this work. The specific roles of this author is articulated in the ‘author contributions’ section.