Year

2010

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Department Of Psychology

Abstract

Although sizeable, the literature on hopelessness in young people is fragmented and lacks integrated consideration of the possible effects that social context plays in the genesis, maintenance and experience of hopelessness. The current research comprised two studies designed to allow for clarification and integration of the literature. Study 1 was a quantitative survey of students (n=450) drawn from metropolitan and rural high schools in New South Wales, Australia. While levels of hopelessness did not differ between the rural and metropolitan samples, regression analyses revealed differences between the variables associated with hopelessness in each of the groups. Results suggest that hopelessness was experienced differently between groups, with the metropolitan experience of hopelessness characterised by affective distress and perceived lack of support, and the rural experience by a perceived lack of control over external events affecting their lives. Study 2 was a qualitative, interview-based study designed to clarify and expand on the results of Study 1. Young people were sampled from university and residential rehabilitation populations. Descriptions of hopelessness were compared between university and rehabilitation sample groups, and between those who described a metropolitan or a rural background. Metropolitan youth were more likely to describe hopelessness as characterised by distress and withdrawal from valued activities, while rural youth described hopelessness as involving a loss of positive personal qualities, and decreased confidence in their own abilities. Compared to the university sample, young people in residential rehabilitation were more likely to describe hopelessness with reference to shame or moral failure, withdrawal from others, and loss of positive qualities of the self. Participants in the residential rehabilitation sample were also more likely to identify history of family conflict and abuse in their accounts of the aetiology of hopelessness. Taken together, these results suggest that social context plays a role in influencing individuals’ understanding and experience of hopelessness. Implications for interpretation of the literature and clinical applications are discussed.

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