Abstract: A Mixed-Method Research on Stress and Coping Strategies Among Undergraduate Social Work Students in the United States (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

563P A Mixed-Method Research on Stress and Coping Strategies Among Undergraduate Social Work Students in the United States

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Kareen Tonsing, PhD, Faculty Member, Oakland University, Rochester, MI
Jenny Tonsing, PhD, Assistant Professor, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC
Background and Purpose: Globally it is recognized that transitioning to university can be stressful for young adults as they cope with a professional program’s rigor and adapt to a novel environment. Social work program consists of both an academic and professional requirement. In addition to the more common stressors faced by university students, social work students must also adapt to their role as students and cope with the expectations of professional placement experiences. How people respond to and cope with stress varies, and how they appraised and the coping mechanism utilized to cope with the stressful situations or events can predict the perceived levels of stress. Thus, the current study investigates the factors contributing to stress among social work students and the coping strategies to manage their stress.

Methods: A mixed-method design was used to collect data from undergraduate social work students enrolled at two large public universities in the United States. Quantitative survey data were collected from a cross-section of 210 students, using the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), the Brief COPE inventory, and 29 items from the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory. Respondents ranged in age from 18 to 61, with a median age of 22 years, of whom 87.1% were female, and 53.8% is in junior year. Thirty students from the same quantitative study participated in five focus groups. Data collection and data analyses for the quantitative and qualitative study were conducted independently, and data were integrated into the discussion section based on the convergent parallel design. Quantitative data was analyzed with SPSS 26. Qualitative data were analyzed using the transcript-based analysis method.

Results: The quantitative data revealed that 51% of students were highly stressed, with students in senior year reporting higher mean scores on PSS (Senior YearM=21.87, SD=6.86; Junior YearM=19.38, SD=5.91; t (1, 208) =-2.83, p <. 01). Increased workload at school (82.9%), a change in the health of family member (48.1%), trouble with parents (34.8%), serious arguments with friends (40%), a change in sleeping habits (72.4%), social activities (67.1%), and financial status (46.7%) were rated as most stressful. Results of hierarchical regression analyses showed that the number of stressful life events (B=0.24, t=3.54, p < .001), problem-focused coping strategies (B=-0.14, t=-1.98, p < .05), and avoidant coping strategies (B=0.58, t=8.41, p < .001) were significantly associated with perceived stress, accounting for 40% of the total variance in perceived stress. Transcribed data from the focus groups identified three themes on sources of stress, and three themes relating to stress-coping strategies and subcategories emerged: academic stress, personal stress, financial stress, active coping, support seeking coping and avoidant coping.

Conclusions and Implications: Our study findings revealed that most students are stressed, and they utilized different coping strategies to manage their stress. Educators and administrators can play a vital role in enhancing and helping students develop positive coping strategies to manage and cope with the stress associated with academic and professional training demands. Findings have implications for social work educators and future research.