Help-Seeking as a Maladaptive Coping Style in the Pandemic Scenario: What Worked and What Did Not for Facing This New Stressor

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Dec 29;19(1):319. doi: 10.3390/ijerph19010319.


The spread of COVID-19 and its related confinement measures were important stressors for a large part of the global population, with massive effects on both physical and mental health. Assessing how individuals coped with such a stressor and which strategies were effective is one of the main challenges for psychological research. In this study, we aimed to investigate the coping strategies implied during the COVID-19 lockdown and their effectiveness. We recruited 374 Italian participants through convenience sampling during the first pandemic wave (April 2020). We administered to our participants an online battery of questionnaires including the Brief COPE, the use of alternative coping strategies proposed by the WHO to help people facing lockdown stress, and a range of psychological symptoms. An exploratory factor analysis conducted on the subscales of the Brief COPE revealed a three-factor structure. Following the previous literature, we named these factors engagement, disengagement, and help-seeking coping styles. In the pandemic scenario, the engagement and disengagement styles revealed the typical correlation patterns with psychological symptoms (i.e., the engagement was adaptive while the disengagement was maladaptive). Instead, contrary to previous literature, help-seeking was positively related to psychological symptoms, suggesting a mismatch between searching for help and finding it during the lockdown. This result supports the importance of evaluating the effectiveness of coping strategies in the pandemic scenario, to give more compelling and precise advice to the population.

Keywords: Brief COPE; COVID-19; coping; help-seeking; lockdown; psychological symptoms; stress.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • COVID-19*
  • Communicable Disease Control
  • Humans
  • Pandemics*
  • SARS-CoV-2