International Journal of Existential Positive Psychology

Stressing the meaning: Examining meaning in life, depression and academic stress in psychology undergraduate students

Robert Hurst, BSc

University of Bolton

Jerome Carson, PhD

University of Bolton


Meaning in life has been proven to aid wellbeing in a variety of populations, including students. A higher sense of meaning can reduce stress. Academic stress and depression are increasing concerns for undergraduates. The present study hypothesises a link between meaning and academic stress, and between meaning and depressive symptoms. Psychology undergraduate students at a university in Northern England (N=160) completed the Meaning in Life Questionnaire (MLQ), University Stress Scale (USS), and Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9). Stress was significantly correlated with meaning presence scores, and students scoring low on meaning presence scored significantly higher on academic stress, with a medium effect size (g = .53). Depression scores correlated negatively (r = -.586) with meaning presence with a large effect (g = .96) , suggesting that increasing meaning within student populations could also improve mental health. A regression analysis showed that age, stress, and depression accounted for 33% of the variance in meaning presence, though only age and depression were significant predictors. Suggestions for the application of these findings to student wellbeing are discussed. Psychology is losing its philosophical roots. Exploring key concepts such as meaning could give students tools to improve wellbeing.

Keywords: Meaning in life, wellbeing, depression, academic stress, undergraduate students

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