"it is like a mind attack": Stress and coping among urban school-going adolescents in India

Rachana Parikh, Mahima Sapru, Madhuri Krishna, Pim Cuijpers, Vikram Patel, Daniel Michelson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Mental health problems are leading contributors to the global disease burden in adolescents. This study aims to highlight (1) salient context-specific factors that influence stress and coping among school-going adolescents across two urban sites in India; and (2) potential targets for preventing mental health difficulties. Methods: Focus group discussions were undertaken with a large sample of 191 school-going adolescent boys and girls aged 11-17 years (mean = 14 years), recruited from low- and middle-income communities in the predominantly urban states of Goa and Delhi. Framework analysis was used to identify themes related to causes of stress, stress reactions, impacts and coping strategies. Results: Proximal social environments (home, school, peers and neighborhood) played a major role in causing stress in adolescents' daily lives. Salient social stressors included academic pressure, difficulties in romantic relationships, negotiating parental and peer influences, and exposure to violence and other threats to personal safety. Additionally, girls highlighted stress from having to conform to normative gender roles and in managing the risk of sexual harassment, especially in Delhi. Anger, rumination and loss of concentration were commonly experienced stress reactions. Adolescents primarily used emotion-focused coping strategies (e.g., distraction, escape-avoidance, emotional support seeking). Problem-focused coping (e.g., instrumental support seeking) was less common. Examples of harmful coping (e.g., substance use) were also reported. Conclusions: The development of culturally sensitive and age-appropriate psychosocial interventions for distressed adolescents should attend to the challenges posed by home, school, peer and neighborhood environments. Enhancements to problem- and emotion-focused strategies are needed in order to bolster adolescents' repertoire of adaptive coping skills in stressful social environments.

Original languageEnglish
Article number31
JournalBMC Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 May 2019


  • Coping
  • India
  • Mental health
  • Schools
  • Stress


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