Academic journal article College Student Journal

Breakup Distress in University Students: A Review

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Breakup Distress in University Students: A Review

Article excerpt

This review covers recent research on breakup distress in university students using the Breakup Distress Scale adapted from the Inventory of Complicated Grief. In the first study, 37% of the variance in Breakup Distress Scale scores was explained by depression, feelings of betrayal, having less time since the breakup and higher relationship ratings. In a second study, intrusive thoughts contributed to 28% of the variance. Depression and sleep disturbances were also related to breakup distress in this sample. Other negative emotions and behaviors included anxiety, anger, disorganized behavior and inferior academic performance. Studies on reasons for breakups revealed that insecurity and loss of intimacy were the most significant problems in those experiencing breakup distress. Although female students typically reported greater breakup distress, the studies are limited in their generalizability because they sampled primarily Hispanic female psychology students. Nonetheless, the data highlight the negative effects of breakup distress for university students.

Breakup Distress

Breakup distress in university students may take the form of complicated grief, defined as an intense and prolonged period of grief following a loss (Horowitz, Siegel, Holen, Bonanno, Milbrath & Stinson, 1997). The criteria for complicated grief are intense intrusive thoughts, pangs of severe emotion, distressing yearnings, feeling excessively alone and empty, unusual sleep disturbances and loss of interest in personal activities (Horowitz et al, 1997). In a study on college students, complicated grief symptoms were assessed by the Inventory of Complicated Grief, and insomnia and associated sleep behaviors were also self-reported (Hardison, Neimeyer & Lichstein, 2005). The rate of insomnia was significantly higher in the complicated versus the uncomplicated grief samples (22% versus 17%), and sleep disturbances were related to intrusive thoughts about the loss as well as images of the deceased in their dreams.

To assess whether college students' breakup distress simulated complicated grief, the Breakup Distress Scale was adapted from the Inventory of Complicated Grief referring to the breakup person instead of the deceased person, and 16 of the 19 ICG items appropriate to breakups were included. A different rating scale was also used, i.e. a Likert scale with responses ranging from 1 (not at all) to 4 (very much so) (see table 1 for scale). A sample of 192 university students who had experienced a recent breakup of a romantic relationship was divided into high versus low score groups based on the Breakup Distress Scale (Field, Diego, Pelaez, Deeds & Delgado, 2009). Females had higher Breakup Distress Scale scores, and the higher Breakup Distress groups reported having less time since the breakup occurred, did not initiate the breakup, reported that the breakup was sudden and unexpected, felt rejected and betrayed and had not yet found a new relationship. They also scored higher on the Intrusive Thoughts Scale, the Difficulty Controlling Intrusive Thoughts Scale, The Sleep Disturbance Scale, and the depression (CES-D) and anxiety scales (STAI) (see table 2). In a regression analysis, significant predictors of the Breakup Distress scores were the depression score (CES-D), the feeling betrayed by the breakup, having less time since the breakup, and a higher rating of the relationship. These variables explained as much as 37% of the variance, highlighting their contributions to relationship breakup distress. These predictors might be expected inasmuch as depression has been associated with other kinds of grief, and betrayal has been noted to be similar to physical pain (Fisher, 2004). Time since the breakup has been cited as one of the most helpful factors in getting over a broken heart (Knox et al, 2000), and a higher rating of the relationship prior to the breakup would logically make for more breakup distress (see table 3). …

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