The Role of Social-Emotional Competencies and Protective Factors in Predicting University Students' Mental Health

The mental health of young adults, particularly first-year college students, has become a pressing concern around the world. Previous research has identified social-emotional competencies (SEC) as strong predictors of mental health. Simultaneously, other studies have highlighted the association between protective factors and mental well-being. To better understand the relative importance of SEC and protective factors in predicting the mental health of university students, our team conducted a study involving 83 UCL undergraduates.

Using five questionnaires, we assessed participants’ SEC, protective factors, general mental well-being, anxiety, and depression. Linear regression analysis revealed that SEC emerged as the only reliable predictor of mental health in our sample. Our study also investigated the relationship between mental health and the protective factors in the Scale of Protective Factors (SPF) for the first time. However, we found that the protective factors in the SPF scale did not reach the significance level required to predict mental health.

We also explored whether the duration of the university experience (Year 1 vs. Year 3) played a role in predicting mental health among students. Our mediator effect model showed no indirect effects on mental health through the two mediators (SEC and protective factors), as the factor ‘Year’ did not influence them.

The findings of our research underscore the importance of developing social-emotional competencies and protective factors in higher education settings. By focusing on the cultivation of these skills, universities can better support their students’ mental health and overall well-being. At the UCL PALS for EDI, we are committed to exploring strategies for fostering mental health among diverse student populations. If you have any insights or would like to collaborate, please reach out to us at

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