Resilience promotes subjective wellbeing in tertiary students

Year: 2017

Author: Boon, Helen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Experiencing high levels of subjective wellbeing is a central criterion of positive mental health in tertiary students. Wellbeing is not only the result of favourable life circumstances such as academic success and satisfying relationships, but also a predictor and part cause of these outcomes (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005). Nonetheless, transition to university has been associated with lowered mental health resulting from changes in social support in a new environment (Fisher & Hood 1987; 1988), financial stresses and the stress of meeting academic expectations (El Ansari et al., 2011; Stallman 2010). Consequently student wellbeing influences academic (El Ansari, & Stock, 2010), attitudinal and career outcomes and also outcomes that flow on to benefit society at large, because it predicts retention rates (Collings, Swanson, & Watkins, 2014). Increasing success and retention at university is critical given the cost of first-year attrition alone is estimated to be over a $1AUSbillion annually.
Implicated in wellbeing are several factors: resilience (Mguni, Bacon & Brown 2012), social support, income, gender (Stock et al., 2008) and religiosity (Burris, Brechting, Salsman & Carlson, 2009). For example a 14-year follow-up study showed attending religious services predicted a 22% reduction in the risk of developing depression in adults while another longitudinal study showed that higher self-reported religiosity/spirituality predicted a 90 % decreased risk of major depression (Bonelli, & Koenig, 2013).
The study reported here was based on Bronfenbrenner's biological systems theory which links social and environmental factors to psychological and health attributes (Bronfenbrenner, & Morris, 1998). A sample of 152 Australian tertiary students attending a regional university were used to examine the correlates of wellbeing. The surveyed participants were derived from diverse disciplines of study, at different stages of their courses. Three measures were used: reported distress symptoms using the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI), quality of life evaluations and resilience using the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale. Results were Rasch analysed to confirm the underlying factors of the scales and to obtain scale measures; the obtained measures were then imputed into structural equation models to assess the links between factors and demographic variables so as to extract predictors of subjective wellbeing.
Analyses revealed a number of significant influences upon wellbeing, including country of birth, gender, discipline area of study, age and marital status. Resilience was found to be a highly significant predictor of wellbeing, a result not hitherto reported in the context of Australian tertiary students. Distress symptoms, which were highly predicted by discipline of study were implicated in raising resilience, an effect previously observed in other populations, but not in the Australian context.
Results are important for university planning of learning pastoral care interventions to increase student wellbeing. Targeted interventions can also potentially increase retention and completion rates.