Understanding the pathways to resilience in university students in a UK-based higher education setting: a socio-ecological approach

Dutta, Snigdha (2021) Understanding the pathways to resilience in university students in a UK-based higher education setting: a socio-ecological approach. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Background: The mental health and well-being of university students has been deemed a global concern due to the rising prevalence of poor mental health and psychosocial functioning. The thesis's impetus was drawn from the increased advocacy for resilience promotion in university students by higher education-based policies. A review of resilience literature within the higher education context illuminated several discrepancies in the conceptual and operational enquiry of resilience for this specific population. Specifically, the study of resilience within the higher education setting has primarily been individual-focused which has discounted the risk or protective role of family and social factors. Additionally, a review of the resilience-based interventions for university students indicated the need for a systematic theoretical and empirical delineation of the complex construct.

Objective: The thesis proposed and examined the prospective validity of a socio-ecological model of resilience. The influence of a within-individual (i.e., perceived stress), familial (i.e., dysfunctional parenting styles), and social (i.e., perceived social support) risk and protective factors on a multidimensional construct of resilience (i.e., psychological, social, and emotional resilience) were examined. The underlying mechanism of cognitive reappraisal and the potential variations in this mechanism due to the gender and ethnic identities of the university students were also examined.

Methods: A two-phase study design with baseline and 5-month follow-up assessments were conducted. A sample of undergraduate students (79.72% female students, 81.44% While/White British students, mean age = 20.74 years) from all years of study completed a self-report survey at the start of their first term (baseline, n = 775) and again at the end of their second term (follow-up, n = 376). Confirmatory factor analyses were performed to establish longitudinal measurement invariance of the measures used in the self-report survey. Path analyses examined the direct associations, mediation effects, and moderated mediation effects on the data from a final matched sample (n = 362).

Results: Longitudinal path models indicated that perceived stress was a significant predictor of psychological (i.e., mental well-being and psychological distress), social (campus connectedness), and emotional (i.e., positive and negative affect) resilience. Cognitive reappraisal partly conveyed the causal relationships between perceived stress and mental well-being, psychological distress, and positive affect across time. Perceived social support from friends was associated with mental well-being and campus connectedness, and these relationships were partly conveyed by cognitive reappraisal. Perceived social support from significant others was associated with mental well-being, psychological distress, and positive affect. Experiences of maternal dysfunctional parenting styles had direct relationships with mental well-being, psychological distress, campus connectedness, and negative affect. Perceived social support from family and paternal dysfunctional parenting styles were not associated with the outcomes of resilience. Gender and ethnicity did not moderate the underlying mechanism of cognitive reappraisal in the pathways of resilience in the longitudinal models.

Discussion: This thesis's findings support the need to examine social and family-based factors as predictors of resilience. Specifically, the results suggest that early adverse experiences of poor family functioning can have a cascading effect on psychological, social, and emotional adaptation later in life. The partial support for cognitive reappraisal suggests that the ability to downregulate emotional responses in the face of stressors can be beneficial when perceived social support is low, and perceived stress is high. These findings have significant implications on the development of resilience-based interventions that provide opportunities for the formation of long-lasting social support networks and cultivating stress-management skills. Overall, the findings offer a useful socio-ecological framework for the conceptualisation and operationalisation of university students' resilience within the higher education context.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Aubeeluck, Aimee
Wright, Nicola
van derk Eijk, Cees
Keywords: University students; Mental health; Resilience promotion
Subjects: W Medicine and related subjects (NLM Classification) > WA Public health
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences > School of Health Sciences
Item ID: 64679
Depositing User: Dutta, Snigdha
Date Deposited: 04 Aug 2021 04:40
Last Modified: 04 Aug 2021 04:40
URI: https://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/64679

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