Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation


College of Social Work


Social Work

First Advisor

Miriam M Johnson


The purpose of this study was to describe the relationship among sources and levels of stress, coping patterns, sources and levels of social support, and psychological distress for MSW students. Stress is a common feeling experienced by people throughout life and it is important to understand the way they cope with their stressors. Most of the research on mental health needs at U.S. universities has focused on undergraduate students (Benton, Robertson, Tseng, Newton, & Benton, 2003) and not on those individuals in graduate school. Attending graduate school is a huge commitment that demands much of the student's time and energy in successfully managing a challenging academic workload (Lawson & Fuehrer, 2001). Using the Transactional Model of Stress and Coping as the theoretical framework, this study documented the self-reported stress of MSW students using the Perceived Stress Scale. The Brief COPE measured students' evaluation of the stressfulness of situations in the past month of their lives and what coping strategies were used. The Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support measured students' perceived sources and levels of social support. Finally, the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale measured the levels of psychological distress MSW students reported having over the past four weeks.

This study was conducted using a convenience sample of 372 MSW students enrolled in a master of social work program during the Fall 2010 semester. Data collection for this study was accomplished by distributing survey instruments in class and online to various course sections in an attempt to assure there was an opportunity for all Part-time, Full-time, and Advanced Standing students to participate. MSW students reported moderate to high levels of stress on the Perceived Stress Scale compared to the general population. MSW students who reported three or more stressors had higher psychological distress scores than students reporting none, one, or two stressors. Depression was the stressor associated with the highest level of psychological distress. A total of 89.3% of MSW students reported using healthy coping styles with only 1.3% reported using unhealthy (maladaptive) coping. MSW students reported their Significant Other was the primary choice of social support followed by Family and then Friends. A Stepwise Multiple Regression found perceived stress score, negative coping score, number of stressors reported, vulnerability to stress, and positive coping score to best predict MSW students' psychological distress total overall score. This study has implications for faculty, advisors, and staff of MSW programs, and other graduate departments, who can use this research to increase their awareness of student stressors, coping patterns, social supports, and levels of psychological distress.