Women's connection to college community: The impact on substance use and psychological distress

Gail Frances Mears (2001)

This study explored the relationships among college women's connection to their college community, a best friend, psychological distress, and problematic substance use. Archival data gathered in a study that validated a new instrument, the Relational Health Indices [RHI] (Liang, Tracy, Taylor, Williams, Jordan, & Miller, in press) was analyzed. The RHI is based on the Stone Center Relational Model of growth-fostering relationships and measures empowerment, engagement, and authenticity in three domains: peer, community, and mentor. Responses to 450 surveys that included the RHI, measures of psychological distress, and substance use information were analyzed. The community and peer scales of the RHI (RHI-C and RHI-P) measured the relational health of college women's connection to their college community and to a peer. Lack of connection to college community was strongly correlated to all measures of psychological distress, and in some instances this relationship was significantly stronger than the relationship between connection to a best friend and psychological distress. No relationship was found between connection to college community and problematic substance use. This may reflect that the criteria used to define problematic substance use were not stringent enough to capture problematic versus normative college substance use. While no relationship was found between connection to college community and problematic substance use, the psychological benefits of healthy community relationships for college women are significant and need to be considered when developing policies, programs, and interventions aimed at enhancing college women's experiences. This research provides further support for the contribution of growth-fostering community relationships to women's psychological well being.