Development and Psychometric Evaluation of the Post-Secondary Student Stressors Index
Background: Over the past several years, reports of excessive stress and symptoms of languishing mental health have been increasingly reported among samples of Canadian post-secondary students. Chronic stress is highly correlated with negative mental health outcomes and formal diagnoses for common mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, have continued to climb. The purpose of this doctoral research program was to develop a new instrument to better assess the sources of post-secondary student stress. Existing instruments in this area are imperfect for a number of reasons, including weak (or lack of) psychometric analyses, poorly focused scope, and outdatedness. Importantly, few existing tools have involved students in the process of development. Methods: The development of the Post-Secondary Student Stressors Index (PSSI) spanned two years, and involved students as collaborators and subject matter experts over the course of the project. The instrument was designed to identify stressors specific to the post-secondary setting, with the aim of providing post-secondary institutions with a tool to identify the most significant sources of stress for students on their campuses. To facilitate item pool development, students participated in online surveys and focus group discussions. The initial item pool, derived from these qualitative responses, was then refined through the use of individual cognitive interviews and an online Delphi method. Finally, an online pilot test was conducted to assess psychometric properties. Results: The PSSI is composed of 46 stressors across five domains: academics, learning environment, campus culture, interpersonal, and personal. Students were asked to rate each stressor by severity and frequency. The tool demonstrated strong psychometric properties, with four types of validation evidence collected to support its validity: content, response processes, internal construct (including test-retest reliability), and relations to other variables. Conclusion: Our exploratory sequential mixed methods research design allowed for the development of a heavily context-based tool demonstrating strong psychometric properties. The PSSI can provide Canadian post-secondary institution administrators, student wellness staff, and program developers with a valid method of identifying the sources of student stress on their campus, and facilitate better targeting of mental health promotion and mental illness prevention efforts to best support students’ needs.