IJERPH, Vol. 18, Pages 12752: Addressing Depression Symptoms among University Students under COVID-19 Restrictions—The Mediating Role of Stress and the Moderating Role of Resilience (International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health)
Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to a decline in mental health globally. Compared to the general population, university students have been identified as a group vulnerable to developing depression symptoms during the pandemic. Social isolation, a signature mental health consequence under physical-distancing regulations, is a known predictor of depression symptoms during the pandemic. Yet, more research is required to understand the mechanism that underpins the isolation–depression association and identify psychological factors that may attenuate the association. The current study aimed to understand the role of stress and resilience in the isolation–depression association among university students. Methods: Data were collected from 1718 university students between 28 and 31 May 2020. Partial least squares structural equation modelling (PLS-SEM) was used to examine the mediating role of perceived stress and the moderating role of resilience in the isolation–depression association. Results: We found that perceived stress partially mediated the association between social isolation and depression symptoms. Both the direct and indirect effects were moderated by participants’ resilience levels. Conclusions: Social isolation during the pandemic may contribute to depression symptoms both directly and through elevated stress levels. As an internal strength, resilience may buffer the adverse effects of isolation and stress on depression symptoms. Targeted interventions including mindfulness and physical exercise training may provide promising results in reducing depression symptoms among university students and should be considered by university administrators particularly during times of imposed physical-distancing measures.