Abstract: Single-Session Character Strength-Based Cognitive Intervention for Mental Health in First-Year Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial Addressing Short- and Long-Term Efficacy and Mechanisms (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

224P Single-Session Character Strength-Based Cognitive Intervention for Mental Health in First-Year Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial Addressing Short- and Long-Term Efficacy and Mechanisms

Friday, January 18, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
He Bu, PhD, PhD Candidate, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Wenjie Duan, PhD, Associate Professor, Wuhan University, China
Background and Purpose: The first-year students need a rapid adjustment to the university, otherwise they will be placed into high risk of mental health problems. A recent study published on Research on Social Work Practiceestimates premilitary efficacy of a single-session character-strength-based cognitive (SCBC) intervention (Duan and Bu, 2017). Based on cognitive behavioral therapy and positive psychology, the SCBC intervention activities can quickly and effectively improve thriving and reduce negative emotions of the first-year students. The current study was aimed to investigate whether this single-session intervention can deliver ongoing benefits and why the intervention worked. According to previous studies of character-strength-based interventions, we expected the long-term efficacy of the intervention was realistic, and we hypothesized that the effectiveness of this intervention on outcomes were sequentially mediated by strengths knowledge (i.e., awareness of strengths) and strengths use (i.e., application of strengths).

Methods:A total of 72 first-year students (age: M = 18.22, SD= 0.66, 17-20 years; gender ratio: [1, N = 72] = 0.22, p = .64) was randomly allocated to the intervention and the waiting-list control groups. The intervention consisted of two stages (i.e. a cognitive stage and a behavioral stage). First, a 90-mintue strengths-based course was delivered to students, which included four activities helping participants identifying and exploring their strengths. Then, they were asked to engage in the strengths-based activities in the following week. After the two stages, participants in the intervention group were encouraged to continue the intervention exercises in their daily life. All students were asked to take pre-test, post-test, 1-week, 3-month, 1-year follow-up tests. Strengths Knowledge and Strengths Use Scale (SKUS) was employed to measure the awareness and application of strengths respectively. Brief Inventory of Thriving (BIT), and Depression Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS-21) were used to measure outcomes (thriving and negative emotional symptoms respectively). Repeated-measures analyses were performed with outcomes set as dependent variables at the five time points (with-subject factor) and two groups as the between-subject factor. The PROCESS macro was used to conduct the mediation analysis.

Results:Data analysis revealed that the intervention can significantly promote thriving and reduce negative emotions. The intervention had short-term effectiveness (up to 3 months), but the effectiveness was not maintained for a long time. Strengths use partially mediated the effectiveness of the intervention, but strengths knowledge did not significantly predict the outcomes.

Conclusions and Implications: The SCBC intervention can be an effective approach to improve the mental health of the first-year students. It involved school social workers in preventing college population’s mental health problems. School faculty can consider incorporating this intervention into the routine course for freshmen. When conducting the SCBC intervention, more attention should be paid to strengths use. Social workers can encourage participants to continue self-practice activities so that they can gain ongoing benefits from what they have learned in the SCBC intervention.