in multiple sclerosis (MS), disease-related factors and dysfunctional coping might favour the development of mental distress induced by COVID-19 containment measures.
to explore the relationship between mental distress, disability and coping strategies in the Italian MS population under lockdown.
Structural equation modeling (SEM) was applied to information collected via web-survey to identify modifiable factors that could account for mental distress. Information about the following domains was collected: (1) socio-demographic features; (2) general and MS related health status; (3) changes in lifestyle; (4) COVID-19 infection and risk perception; (5) physical disability assessed via the Patient-Determined Disease Steps (PDDS) scale and the Upper Extremity Function – Short Form (UEF) from the Quality of Life in Neurological Disorders (Neuro-QoL) measurement system; (6) cognitive function investigated using the Cognition Function– Short Form from the Neuro-QoL. Abstract reasoning, logical thinking and, in part, sustained attention, were measured using six Raven-like matrices; (7) mental distress: four domains from the Neuro-QoL were explored. Specifically, sleep disturbances, anxiety feelings, depressive symptoms, emotional dyscontrol; (8) coping strategies: individual response to lockdown was assessed using 18 items from the COPE-NVI-25, evaluating five independent coping strategies: avoidance (AV), social support (SS), positive attitude (PA), problem solving (PS) and turning to religion (TR).
845 subjects (497 MS and 348 controls) were included in the study. MS patients showed higher scores than controls for depression (p=0.005), but not for anxiety, emotional dyscontrol or sleep disturbances. The SEM explained 74% of the variance observed in depression score. Within the model, three latent factors were characterized from measured variables: motor disability and cognitive dysfunction contributed to disability (β=0.509 and β=0.836, p<0.001); positive attitude and exercise contributed to active attitude (β=0.386 and β=0.297, p<0.001); avoidance, social support and watching TV contributed to passive attitude (β=0.301, β=0.243 and β=0.212, p<0.001). As per the relationship between latent factors and their influence on depression, disability contributed to passive attitude (β=0.855, p<0.001) while both passive and active attitude significantly influenced depression (β=0.729 and β=-0.456, p<0.001).
As practical implication of our model, favoring exercise would enhance active attitude and its positive impact on mental well-being while, at the same time, reducing the negative impact of disability on depression, representing a valuable tool for the long term management of COVID-19 related mental distress in MS.