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Approach and avoidant coping: Implications for adolescent mental health

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We conducted a short-term longitudinal study examining the structure of coping behavior and the relationship between coping style and depression during adolescence. The sample consisted of 603 adolescents in Grades 6–11 who were surveyed in the fall of 1989 and again in the fall of 1990. A two-dimensional model of coping was found using confirmatory factor analysis with the factors being approach and avoidant coping. Four cross-sectional and seven longitudinal coping groups were formed to explore group differences in depression. Approach copers reported the fewest symptoms of depression, while avoidant copers reported the most. Subjects who changed over time from approach to avoidant coping evidenced a significant increase in depressive symptoms, whereas subjects who switched from avoidant to approach coping displayed a significant decrease in depression over a one-year period. These findings imply that adolescents who are able to elicit social support, engage in problem solving, and cognitively restructure events within a positive light are more likely to successfully negotiate the challenges of adolescence.

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This research was supported by a grant from the William T. Grant Foundation (8912789), Anne C. Petersen, Principal Investigator. The writing of this article was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health Research Training Grant 5 T32MH18387-06 in Child Mental Health/Primary Prevention.

Received Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies from Pennsylvania State University. Research interests include adolescent mental health and community research.

Received his Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies from Pennsylvania State University. Research interests include adolescent mental health and research methodology.

Received degree from the University of Chicago. Research interests are in biopsychosocial development in adolescence, with a focus on sex differences in mental health.

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Herman-Stabl, M.A., Stemmler, M. & Petersen, A.C. Approach and avoidant coping: Implications for adolescent mental health. J Youth Adolescence 24, 649–665 (1995).

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