Introduction: It is claimed that the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has had a negative impact on mental health. However, to date, prospective studies are lacking. Moreover, it is important to identify which factors modulate the stress response to the pandemic. Previously, sense of coherence (SOC) has emerged as a particularly important resistance factor. Objective: This prospective study aimed to assess the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on mental health and to investigate the ability of pre-outbreak SOC levels to predict changes in psychopathological symptoms. Methods: This study assessed psychopathological symptoms and SOC before and after the COVID-19 outbreak as well as post-outbreak COVID-19-related traumatic distress in a German-speaking sample (n =1,591). Bivariate latent change score (BLCS) modeling was used to analyze pre- to post-outbreak changes in psychopathological symptoms and the ability of SOC to predict symptom changes. Results: Overall, there was no change in psychopathological symptoms. However, on an individual-respondent level, 10% experienced a clinically significant increase in psychopathological symptoms and 15% met cut-off criteria for COVID-19-related traumatic distress. Using BLCS modeling, we identified a high-stress group experiencing an increase in psychopathological symptoms and a decrease in SOC and a low-stress group showing the reversed pattern. Changes in SOC and psychopathological symptoms were predicted by pre-outbreak SOC and psychopathological symptom levels. Conclusions: Although mental health was stable in most respondents, a small group of respondents characterized by low levels of SOC experienced increased psychopathological symptoms from pre- to post-outbreak. Thus, SOC training might be a promising approach to enhance the resistance to stressors.

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