Can Coping Mediate the Relationship Between Stress and Mental Distress in College Students?

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Graf, Tessa R.
Washburn University
Department of Psychology
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Young adulthood and college are periods of heightened stress, including environmental changes, lost or changing social support, novel and increasing academic pressures, and increased personal responsibility (Brougham et al., 2009; Vaez & LaFlamme, 2008). Students are struggling with the demands of college, and college-related stress has been found to be associated with poor mental health (American College Health Association [ACHA], 2017; Geslani & Gaebelein, 2013; Gupchup, Borrego, & Konduri, 2004; Klainin-Yobas, et al., 2014). Coping plays an important role in how an individual manages stressors. The use of maladaptive coping skills has been associated with depression, anxiety, and poorer grades in college students (Folkman & Lazarus, 1985; Mahmoud et al., 2012; Zuckerman & Gagne, 2003). The current study had participants complete a stress measure, coping use inventory, and mood and anxiety questionnaire. The use of coping was examined as a mediator between stress and mental distress, as measured by anxiety and depression. Preliminary analyses found that stress, depression, and anxiety were significantly positively correlated with maladaptive coping skills (avoidance, self-punishment, and substance use) and significantly negatively correlated with adaptive coping skills (approach and accommodation). As per the mediation model, stress significantly predicted anxiety and depression, as well as coping skills. Coping skills also significantly predicted anxiety and depression. Additionally, coping was found to partially mediate the relationship between stress and anxiety and depression.