New undergraduates can experience symptoms of both anxiety and depression during the transition to university life.
That is the conclusion of research presented at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society's Division of Clinical Psychology in York.
Dr Felicity Nichols and her colleagues at the University of Hull followed 133 new undergraduates through their first term at university, testing them at the beginning and end of term and also asking them to keep a diary of their feelings in between.
The research carried out by Dr Felicity Nichols and her colleagues was based upon current psychological theory about the things that individuals use to navigate change such as social support, coping strategies, beliefs about the situation and individual factors. Transition periods, such as starting university, are associated with a range of different emotions, from happiness and excitement, to uncertainty and sadness, but it is these experiences that contribute to individuals' successful negotiation of any transition.
Analysing the results, Dr Felicity Nichols found that at the beginning of term anxiety levels were in the borderline range for clinical concern. There were some individuals in the clinical range for both anxiety and depression, however the group of students as a whole did not experience anxiety or depression at levels that required clinical intervention.
She found that optimism and that a feeling that their expectations had been met tended to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, as did perceptions that a new student had a good social life and friends.
Drinking a lot of alcohol was significant for the development of anxiety symptoms. Interestingly, feelings of satisfaction with the social support a new student was receiving reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression initially but was associated with an increase in anxiety symptoms later in the term.
Dr Felicity Nichols said: "Research in the UK has tended to overlook this important stage in a young person's life. It is encouraging that anxiety and depression were not present at levels that call for clinical intervention, which may suggest that many students go through a very normal adjustment process during the transition to university. However, it is clear that further research is needed."
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