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The Effect of University Belongingness in Anxiety and Depression Among Emerging Adults Open Access

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Introduction: Emerging adulthood is a stage of life characterized by notable personal development across several domains, including social identity. Many emerging adults attend colleges and universities, a context in which substantial social identity growth occurs. James Cameron's three-factor model proposes that social identity is comprised of Centrality, Ingroup Affect, and Ingroup Ties. Centrality refers to the amount of time spent thinking about being a group member. Ingroup Affect refers to the emotions associated with membership in the group. Lastly, Ingroup Ties are the perceptions of similarity, bonds, and belongingness with other group members. Studies have shown that a lack of bonds with social groups predicts negative mental health outcomes, while development of strong social ties predicts positive psychological adjustment to college and lower rates of anxiety and depression. Furthermore, strong social ties to the university have been shown to be associated with lower rates of anxiety and depression. This is particularly important given rates of such internalizing disorders have been increasing in college students, where 21.8% and 13.5% report impairment in functioning from anxiety and depressive symptoms, respectively. The present study hypothesized inverse relationships between social ties to one's university and both anxiety and depression in college students. Methods: Undergraduate students (n = 341) attending a private urban university completed self-report matures. These measures included the Penn State Worry Questionnaire, the Beck Anxiety Inventory, and the Patient Health Questionnaire-9. Participants also completed the Three Dimensional Strength of Group Identification Scale to measure aspects of their social identity as students of a university. Results: Bivariate correlational analysis revealed a significant inverse relationship between overall social identification with the university and depressive symptoms (r = -.16, p < .05). Ingroup Affect also had a significant inverse relationship with depressive symptoms (r = -.18, p < .05) and with worry symptoms (r = -.16, p < .05). Ingroup Ties had a significant inverse relationship with depressive symptoms (r=-0.24, p<.0001), worry symptoms (r=-.12, p<.05) and panic symptoms (r=-.14, p <.05). Discussion: The findings of the present study support prior research which claim that an emerging adult's connection to their educational institutions may be critical for their psychological well being. The importance of these findings could contribute to lower instances of reported depression and anxiety cases on university campuses. Universities can use these findings to develop programs which foster a sense of community; which could ultimately promote more positive mental health on campus and a strong sense of school spirit among college students.

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