Loneliness as a mediator for college students' social skills and experiences of depression and anxiety

J Adolesc. 2019 Jun;73:1-13. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2019.03.006. Epub 2019 Mar 29.


Introduction: Rates of anxiety and depression are increasing among college undergraduates. Existing research has demonstrated a link between social skills and mental health outcomes. This study explores the relationship between verbal social skills (encoding and decoding) and anxiety and depression by measuring the extent to which loneliness mediates these relationships.

Methods: Baseline data from a cross-sequential study exploring college student mental health was used to analyze social skills, loneliness, as well as, depression and anxiety. A diverse group of students (n = 2,054; M = 19.95; SD = 1.26) participated from two residential colleges in the United States.

Results: Six mediation models were estimated, separately testing whether loneliness mediated the relationship between anxiety and depression and social expressiveness, sensitivity, and control. All six found that (a) anxiety and depression were separately predicted by the verbal encoding skills of social expressivity and social control and the decoding skill of social sensitivity, and (b) all of those relationships were mediated by loneliness. These models accounted for 37-38% of the variability in scores of depression and 17-20% of the variability in scores of anxiety.

Conclusions: The results of this study indicate verbal social skills play an important role in students experience of loneliness as well as depression and anxiety. Improving the social skills of students should be considered by colleges seeking to reduce the mental health burdens experienced by their students.

Keywords: Anxiety; College students; Depression; Loneliness; Social skills.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / complications
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / complications
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Loneliness / psychology*
  • Male
  • Social Skills*
  • Students / psychology
  • Young Adult