Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Mental Disorders and Related Factors in College Students from Nontraditional Families in China

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Mental Disorders and Related Factors in College Students from Nontraditional Families in China

Article excerpt

Over the past decade, in the USA and China the number of college students with serious mental disorders has risen significantly (Hunt & Eisenberg, 2010; Li, Lindsey, Yin, & Wang, 2014). An investigation of over 26,000 students from 70 colleges in the USA revealed that 6% of undergraduates and 4% of graduate students had serious suicidal ideation within the past 12 months (Drum, Brownson, Burton Denmark, & Smith, 2009). In a 2009-2011 survey of 21,736 students from an East China university, mental health deteriorated and 11.14%-15.37% students had a mental-health disorder for five consecutive years (Lu, 2014). Further, poor mental health had a negative impact on the students' personal well-being, academic performance, and graduation rates.

Change in family structure is one of the most significant stressors affecting family members' mental health (Vargas, Roosa, Knight, & O'Donnell, 2013). Family structure refers to the diversity of types of family unit composition (Turagabeci, Nakamura, Kizuki, & Takano, 2007), with the traditional family structure consisting of a married couple providing care for their biological offspring. In the wake of economic reform in China that has brought about an improvement in living standards and an uninhibited state of mind, the annual number of divorces per 1,000 people in China has grown from 0.35 in 1980 to 1.71 in 2008 (Xu, Zhang, & Amato, 2011). Family breakdown exposes children to many risk factors, such as high conflict, a lower level of affectionate behavior, poorer communication, and the loss of important parenting practices (e.g., socializing their children before they begin schooling). Fomby and Cherlin (2007) found that children in divorced families and single-parent families experience poorer cognitive achievement, and more behavioral and emotional problems than do those in traditional families. Furthermore, instability of family structure (e.g., parental divorce) in childhood is associated with the risk of developing mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, in adulthood (Huurre, Junkkari, & Aro, 2006; Soria & Linder, 2014).

Family functioning refers to the social and structural properties of the global family environment (Lewandowski, Palermo, Stinson, Handley, & Chambers, 2010). Mooney, Oliver, and Smith (2009) stated that family functioning has a greater impact than does family structure on outcomes for children. In the view of Sharma (2013), the quality of family functioning contributes to the social and emotional competence in children, which is central to positive developmental outcomes. Well-functioning families maintain a balance in cohesion and adaptability (Baiocco, Cacioppo, Laghi, & Tafà, 2013). Cohesion is the degree of emotional closeness among family members, and adaptability is the family's ability to change its role relationships in response to various stress conditions (Yang, Wu, Huang, Lien, & Lee, 2014). Poor family functioning occurs in families with high levels of conflict, disorganization, and poor affective and behavioral control (Lewandowski et al., 2010). Unhealthy family functioning is associated with children experiencing negative physical symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, sleep problems, and social dysfunction, which persist into adulthood (Fattah Zade, 2009; Gau et al., 2012).

In comparison to traditional families, nontraditional families, which include stepfamilies, adoptive families, and single-parent families, are becoming more common (Fomby & Cherlin, 2007; Xu et al., 2011). However, few researchers have examined the effect of family-related factors on the mental health of college students from nontraditional families in China. Therefore, in this study, we investigated the mental health status of college students from nontraditional families, and the effect of family-related factors (e.g., individual characteristics, family information, and family functioning) on the students' mental health. …

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