Does coping help? A reexamination of the relation between coping and mental health

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1987 Aug;53(2):337-48. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.53.2.337.


In a longitudinal community survey of 291 adults, we explored the relation between coping strategies and psychological symptoms. Respondents completed the revised Ways of Coping Scale (Folkman & Lazarus, 1985) for a self-named stressful episode. Factor analysis produced eight coping factors: three problem focused, four emotion focused, and one (support mobilization) that contained elements of both. Multiple regression analyses indicated bidirectionality in the relation between coping and psychological symptoms. Those in poorer mental health and under greater stress used less adaptive coping strategies, such as escapism, but coping efforts still affected mental health independent of prior symptom levels and degree of stress. We compared main versus interactive effects models of stress buffering. Main effects were confined primarily to the emotion-focused coping scales and showed little or negative impacts of coping on mental health; interactive effects, though small, were found with the problem-focused scales. The direction of the relation between problem-focused scales and symptoms may depend in part on perceived efficacy, or how the respondent thought he or she handled the problem. Implications for the measurement of adaptive coping mechanisms and their contextual appropriateness are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Problem Solving