The Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Loneliness, Life Meaning, and Resilience among Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Post-Secondary Students: Improving Academic Success, Inclusion, and Stress Recovery




Welch, Brooke Erin

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Background Research: The COVID-19 pandemic has likely impacted the resilience of Indigenous and non-Indigenous post-secondary students in Canada. Resilience may be negatively impacted by psychological experiences such as emotional loneliness, social loneliness, and a lack of life meaning. These three psychological experiences are exacerbated by lock down measures, quarantining, and cancelled events such as weddings and funerals. Young adults in post-secondary education must already manage challenging developmental milestones, often with unstable social and familial networks. Furthermore, Indigenous students must manage potentially discriminatory post-secondary environments, as well as school curriculums that challenge Indigenous values. Understanding this, school environments require decolonizing improvements that meet the psychological needs of their students in a changing social, economic, and political climate. Improvements to loneliness and life meaning may subsequently improve resilience, in addition to academic success, inclusion, and stress recovery. Objectives: This thesis aims to provide solution-focused data using Indigenous research methodologies. This thesis specifically explores the statistical relations between emotional loneliness, social loneliness, life meaning, and resilience. Barriers to social support options (i.e., counselling, group therapy, clubs, family, friends, etc.) and university-endorsed activities (i.e., jobs, volunteering, leadership roles, etc.) are also explored for their respective impact on experiences of loneliness and life meaning. Students’ response rates and Indigenous written responses are then analysed (1) to better understand students’ lived experiences, and (2) to uncover decolonizing approaches to improving both on campus social support options and university-endorsed activities. Hypotheses: (H1) Students will report higher scores on measures of emotional loneliness than social loneliness. (H2) Lower scores on measures of emotional loneliness, as well as higher scores on measures of life meaning, will predict higher scores on measures of resilience. (H3) Lower scores on measures of perceived barriers when accessing social support options will predict lower scores on measures of loneliness. (H4) Lower scores on measures of perceived barriers when accessing university-endorsed activities will predict higher scores on measures of life meaning. Method: This thesis incorporates a decolonizing methodology outlined by Hayward et al. (2021). This study utilizes 676 participant responses (3.30% of which identified as Indigenous) from students attending the University of Victoria in a full- or part-time program (Ages: 16-56 years, M = 20.13, SD = 3.84). Data collection occurred between September to December 2021, allowing for responses over the course of one semester. During this period, students were in the process of returning to campus, with daily national COVID-19 cases around roughly 3,000-4000 individuals (Worldometer, n.d.). Online recruitment methods were completed through the Department of Psychology SONA Research Participation System, and through a listserv utilized by the IACE at the University of Victoria. Demographic Questions included employment, financial stability, living situation, social circumstances, school status, workload, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on wellbeing. Standardized Questionnaires included the de Jong Gierveld Loneliness Scale, the Life Engagement Test, and the Brief Resiliency Questionnaire. Additional Questionnaires were created to assess student experiences when accessing both social support options (i.e., the source for support, the method and frequency of contact, and barriers when accessing) and university-endorsed activities (i.e., valued activities, valued aspects of activities, and barriers when accessing). Analysis: At the broadest level, t-tests and hierarchical regression analyses are used to demonstrate a theoretical relation between various predictors and predicted variables. To provide more detail, student response rates for various questionnaires are used to contextualize student experiences when seeking social support options and meaningful activities. For an in-depth account of student experiences, four separate thematic analyses are conducted on Indigenous written responses. Results: All four hypotheses were supported. Scores of emotional loneliness were higher than scores of social loneliness (H1). Scores of resilience were significantly predicted by scores of emotional loneliness and life meaning (H2). These findings justified an exploratory analysis, which demonstrated that only scores of life meaning, and not resilience, emotional loneliness, or social loneliness, predicted scores of school satisfaction. More frequent experiences of barriers to social support options or university-endorsed activities respectively predicted higher scores of loneliness (H3) and lower scores of life meaning (H4). These results are complemented and expanded upon by notable response rates and themes identified from Indigenous student written responses. Discussion: These results suggest the importance of resolving emotional loneliness and a lack of life meaning among post-secondary students, which may be feasible with the use of social support services and university endorsed activities. This may subsequently improve experiences of resilience and school satisfaction. Social Support Options: The Indigenous and general sample both preferred informal, offline, and known sources of support; they also preferred face-to-face, texting, video calling, and phone calling as methods of communication. Common barriers to social support options included issues of cost, the perceived severity of their needs, availability, and a perceived lack of closeness with supports. Across all domains, Indigenous participants were more likely to experience barriers when seeking support. Indigenous written responses specifically identified a need for (1) more considerate services, (2) more culturally and racially specialized services, (3) increased time and availability for each student, and (4) lowered costs. University-Endorsed Activities: The Indigenous and general sample were both more likely to value paid jobs, volunteering, research assistant positions, and off-campus employment, when compared to teaching assistant positions, on-campus employment, or other unpaid positions. They were also most likely to value meeting people with similar interests and gaining knowledge. Students were most likely to face barriers related to a lack of relevant or remote university-endorsed activities. Indigenous written responses suggest an increased need for meaningful, accessible, culturally relevant, and financially rewarding activities. Twenty-one recommendations are offered to decolonize and improve post-secondary settings.



Psychology, COVID-19, Post-Secondary Students, Loneliness, Life Meaning, Resilience, Indigneous Research, Academic Improvements, Stress Recovery, School Satisfaction, Indigneous Psychology, Cultural Psychology, Young Adults, Mental Health Services, Career Services