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Social support resilience as a protective mental health factor in postgraduate researchers’ experiences: a longitudinal analysis

Patricia Gooding (Division of Psychology and Mental Health, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK)
Rebecca Crook (Division of Psychology and Mental Health, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK)
Melissa Westwood (Manchester Doctoral College, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK)
Claire Faichnie (Manchester Doctoral College, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK)
Sarah Peters (Division of Psychology and Mental Health, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK and Manchester Centre for Health Psychology, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK)

Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education

ISSN: 2398-4686

Article publication date: 31 January 2023

Issue publication date: 16 November 2023

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Abstract

Purpose

This study aims to examine the following across a six-month period in post-graduate research (PGR) students: mental health and well-being; the effect of academic pressures on depression, anxiety and well-being; and the extent to which psychological resilience buffered against academic pressures.

Design/methodology/approach

This was a longitudinal questionnaire study with predictor variables of six types of academic pressure, outcome variables of depression, anxiety and well-being, and a moderator of resilience.

Findings

Well-being significantly worsened across the six-month timeframe, but levels of depression and anxiety remained relatively stable. Negative perceptions of academic challenges at baseline significantly predicted anxiety, but not depression or well-being, six months later. Negative appraisals of relationships with supervisors, other university staff and work peers were not predictors of anxiety. Social support resilience which was present at baseline buffered the relationship between perceived academic challenges and anxiety.

Practical implications

Higher education institutions have a duty of care towards PGR students, many of whom struggle with the escalating interactions between mental health problems and academic pressures. Actively nurturing psychological resilience related to social support is key at the level of individual students and the PGR community but more broadly at an institutional level.

Originality/value

To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study to examine the effects of negative perceptions of multiple facets of academic life on depression, anxiety and well-being longitudinally. Additionally, it is the first study to investigate, and demonstrate, the extent to which psychological resilience can lessen the relationship between academic challenges and anxiety over time.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors thank all PGR students who participated.

Ethical standards: The authors assert that all procedures contributing to this work comply with the ethical standards of the relevant national and institutional committees on human experimentation and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2008.

Citation

Gooding, P., Crook, R., Westwood, M., Faichnie, C. and Peters, S. (2023), "Social support resilience as a protective mental health factor in postgraduate researchers’ experiences: a longitudinal analysis", Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, Vol. 14 No. 3, pp. 245-258. https://doi.org/10.1108/SGPE-04-2022-0032

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited

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