Coping has been the subject of numerous studies over the past decades, yet significant debate remains regarding the structure of this construct.

Data and methods

Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses were conducted on 2013 Canadian Forces Mental Health Survey (CFMHS) data to examine the factor structure of coping items. A total of 6,696 Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Regular Force members completed a coping inventory that assessed 14 coping strategies (e.g., problem solving, talking to others).


Results indicated that coping among CAF Regular Force members was best represented by two factors: positive coping and negative coping. Coping strategies categorized as positive coping included active efforts to confront the stressor or improve one’s well-being, whereas those categorized as negative coping reflected passive or avoidant efforts or behaviours that may compromise one’s health. Positive coping factor scores were positively associated with perceptions of one’s ability to handle difficult problems and day-to-day demands, while negative coping factor scores were negatively associated with such perceptions, suggesting that the factors had good concurrent validity. Additional analyses pointed to higher positive and negative coping scores among female Regular Force members compared with male Regular Force members. The additional analyses also showed generally less favourable coping scores among lower-ranking Regular Force members and those with a history of deployment to Afghanistan relative to their respective counterparts. Lastly, Regular Force members who received mental health training demonstrated higher positive coping scores.


The report discusses implications for the use of coping indicators in future analyses involving the CFMHS.


Military, coping, factor analysis

DOI: https://www.doi.org/10.25318/82-003-x201900500003-eng


Coping is commonly believed to represent efforts to prevent or lessen threat, harm and loss, or to reduce distress. This concept was brought to the forefront of research as part of the body of work on cognitive appraisals that grew in the 1970s. In particular, based on the cognitive appraisal theory of stress, when individuals face a potentially threatening or stressful event, they engage in primary appraisal, where they assess the level of personal threat that they encounter. This is followed by a secondary appraisal, during which individuals assess the extent of resources they have available to help them deal with this threat. In response, individuals may experience a range of emotions that influence the specific coping strategies they use to deal with a threatening or stressful event. [Full Text]


Jennifer E.C. Lee (jennifer.lee@forces.gc.ca), Stacey Silins and Christine Frank are with the Department of National Defence, Ottawa, Ontario.

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What is already known on this subject?

  • Research has shown that individuals typically employ multiple strategies to cope with stressful situations, and that the strategies they use are an important determinant of how they will fare in response to these situations.
  • Coping has been assessed using a number of items in past surveys, including various cycles of the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS).
  • Factor analyses of 2002 CCHS – Canadian Forces Supplement data have found that these coping items can be represented by three underlying factors—avoidance coping, active coping, and self-medication—but results need to be replicated using more recent data.

What does this study add?

  • Factor analyses of 2013 Canadian Forces Mental Health Survey (CFMHS) data indicated that coping items were best represented by positive coping and negative coping among members of the Regular Force, with strategies categorized as positive coping reflecting active efforts to confront the stressor or improve one’s well-being and strategies categorized as negative coping reflecting passive or avoidant efforts or behaviours that may compromise one’s health.
  • Military subgroups at risk of using less favourable coping strategies included lower-ranking Regular Force members and those with a history of deployment to Afghanistan.
  • Positive coping and negative coping factors demonstrated good concurrent validity with self-rated ability to handle stress, suggesting that indicators representing these broader categories may be used in future analyses of the CFMHS in place of the multiple coping items.

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