Corresponding Author Information: Alison L. Rose

Session Abstract: As the pandemic continues, it is vital to consider distress factors and potential sources for coping with these stressful and uncertain times. The current study examined levels of distress and loneliness and their correlates in a sample of 283 Canadian undergraduates who were assessed during the summer of 2020. This research had two primary goals. First, we examined the correlates of distress and loneliness. We were particularly interested in examining protective factors (e.g., mattering, self-compassion). Second, we investigated levels of maladjustment in students with or without a self-disclosed history of mental illness. Participants completed measures assessing poor well-being (i.e., COVID state anxiety, hopelessness, intrusive thoughts) and individual difference factors (e.g., mattering). Participants also completed loneliness measures that included our recently developed Loneliness Self-Compassion Scale (LSCS). This domain-specific measure is based on the premise that certain people lack the capacity to be kind to themselves when feeling lonely. Collectively, our results indicated that about 1 in 5 students disclosed a history of mental health problems.Group comparisons indicated that these students had comparatively higher levels of COVID state anxiety, hopelessness, and loneliness. They also reported significantly lower levels of loneliness self-compassion and lower feelings of mattering to others. Psychometric tests supported the use of the new measure of loneliness self-compassion. Finally, correlational analyses based on the total sample found that greater loneliness self-compassion and lower feelings of not mattering were associated broadly with less distress and loneliness. Our results attest to the challenges being faced by students during the pandemic and the potentially protective role of positive psychology constructs with a relational basis (i.e., mattering and loneliness self-compassion) that can facilitate adapting to uncertainty and social isolation. Given our use of a cross-sectional design, future work needs to explore the course of psychological distress and its correlates as the pandemic evolves.

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: With the rapid onset and persistence of the COVID-19 pandemic,it is crucial to understand distress factors as well as potential sources for coping among undergraduates who are most vulnerable for mental health concerns. The current study was conducted within several months of pandemic outbreak amidst physical quarantine restrictions and examined students who self-disclosed pre-existing mental illness. We evaluated levels of distress, the potentially protective role of feelings of mattering, and a newly developed measure of loneliness self-compassion.

SUBJECT(S): Data were collected from 283 participants in the summer of 2020 with undergraduates enrolled in online studies at a major Canadian university. Overall, 57 (20.14%) students self-disclosed mental illness, whereas 226 (79.86%) students did not. For the approximately 1 in 5 students who self-disclosed mental illness, their mean age was 22.70 (SD = 4.59) years and primarily female (76.7%), and for those who did not self-disclose mental illness the mean age was 22.0 (SD = 5.18) years and also primarily female (82.5%).

METHODS AND MATERIALS: Participants completed a battery of measures assessing distress and poor well-being (i.e., COVID state anxiety, hopelessness, intrusive thoughts) and individual difference factors (i.e., mattering and not mattering). Participants also completed loneliness measures including our recently developed Loneliness Self-Compassion Scale (i.e., "I tend to be kind to myself when I'm suffering from feeling alone"), which evaluates the degree of self-compassion in response to experiencing feelings of loneliness.

ANALYSES: For the total sample, correlations among these variables were computed. As well, independent t-tests assessed the extent to which students self-disclosing mental illness (N = 57) reported comparatively greater detriments to psychological health and fewer psychological resources.

RESULTS: Those self-disclosing mental illness reported significantly higher levels of COVID state anxiety (t= 8.75, p ≤ .001), feelings of not mattering (t= 4.92, p ≤ .001). hopelessness (t=2.82, p = .001), intrusive thoughts (t= 2.72, p ≤ .001), trait loneliness (t= 9.77, p ≤ .01), and automatic thoughts of loneliness (t= 6.57, p ≤ .001), as well as significantly lower levels of loneliness self-compassion (t= -3.75, p ≤ .01). Other results provide psychometric support for the loneliness self-compassion scale (LSCS, α= .92), such as the positive association between the LSCS and general mattering (r= .34, p ≤ .001), and negative associations between the LSCS and COVID state anxiety (r= -.12, p = .03), as well as hopelessness (r= -.35, p ≤ .001).

CONCLUSIONS: Taken together, the findings portray a picture of undergraduates with pre-existing mental health conditions as being particularly vulnerable to experiencing heightened psychological distress amidst COVID-19 concerns. Our study identifies specific areas in which these students are lacking resilience including a newly constructed measure termed loneliness self-compassion. Our findings point to potential avenues for bolstering the psychological resources of distressed and lonely students. Given the limitations of a cross-sectional design, future work will need to explore the course of psychological distress among those with pre-existing mental health conditions as the pandemic continues.


Alison L. Rose | York University in Toronto, ON

Sarah E. McComb | York University in Toronto, ON

Dr. Gordon L. Flett | York University in Toronto, ON

Dr. Joel O. Goldberg | York University in Toronto, ON


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