Month/Year of Graduation
Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
Sociology and Anthropology
Dr. Kelly MacArthur
The loss of a romantic partner can be a significant life event in one’s life. Breakups vary in intensity and length, but any strong enough bond being broken creates a life event. Pearlin's Stress Process model posits that in the face of a life event, such as the loss of a romantic partner, social-psychological resources can buffer the adverse effects of stressors on mental health. This study focuses on the resource of various sources and types of social support to gain an understanding of how individuals cope with a breakup during the already-stressful life stage of college. Using thematic analysis techniques to examine semi structured, in-depth interviews of 8 college students, I find that social support levels are increased directly following a breakup. Specifically, I identified 3 themes following Pearlin’s model: Sources of Stress, Mediators of Stress, and Manifestations of Stress. Sources of Stress were broken down into sub-themes that characterize the romantic relationship and the breakup experience: Relationship Distress, Strength of Relationship, Breakup Distress, and Current Stressors. Mediators of stress contain sub-themes that define the sources and nature of social support: of Negative Reflection, Spike in Support, Family Support, and Best Friend, Best Supporter. The theme of Manifestations of Stress are in regards to the mental health outcomes of Depressive Symptoms, Present Well-Being, and Individual Rediscovery. The findings of this study support the main tenets of the Stress Process Model in that social support serves as a buffer to the mental health effects of a breakup. However, the negative effects of losing one type of social support, that of the romantic relationship, was attenuated by the increase in support by existing support systems, especially those who have previously experienced similar heartbreak. This study highlights the importance of maintaining a strong social support system while in a relationship, which, this study shows, can compensate for the loss of that romantic relationship. For the most effective support following a romantic split, the results of this study indicate that having someone who has been through such an experience is the most helpful. More research can be done specifying on college relationships and the strength of these breakups, as much literature today prefers the coverage of divorce as a life event instead of breakups. Colleges should seek to further develop structures and services to help students foster social support in response to the findings of this study. Specifically, this study suggests that peer support groups might be particularly beneficial in mediating the relationship between the loss of a romantic relationship during college and poor mental health outcomes.
Harkleroad, Keirstin, "Experiencing Romantic Loss in College: The Role of Social Support on Mental Health" (2023). Theses/Capstones/Creative Projects. 201.