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Using Growth Mindset and Modifiable Risk Factors to Prevent Common Mental Disorders Among College Students: A Latent Growth Curve Analysis
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Depression and anxiety disorders (or common mental disorders; CMDs) are increasingly common among college students, with rates comparable to the general population. Brief, scalable, and transdiagnostic prevention efforts targeting CMDs are needed to address this burden. This study evaluated the effect of a single session growth mindset (GM) intervention on CMD symptom severity. The mediating role of changes in modifiable risk factors (e.g., avoidance, physical activity, social engagement) was examined. College students (N = 371) were randomly assigned to complete either a GM intervention or a psychoeducation control. Participants completed assessments of CMD severity and engagement in modifiable risk factors at baseline, 3 and 6 months. Latent growth curve modeling was used to compare trajectories of risk factor engagement and CMD symptom severity between groups. Among participants below clinical severity at baseline (N = 239), control group participants experienced an increase in anxiety symptoms severity whereas the intervention group experienced no such change. The intervention had no effect on changes in depression symptom severity. To the extent that the intervention increased growth mindset among participants above a clinical threshold at baseline, anxiety and depression symptom severity trajectories decreased more quickly. Among the full sample, to the extent that the intervention prevented an increase in cognitive and behavioral avoidance, symptom severity decreased. The intervention had no effect on any other modifiable risk factor. Findings suggest that a 30-minute, self-directed online intervention can be effective in preventing an increase in anxiety symptom severity among college students. Avoidance may be a key mechanism through which GM interventions influence mental well-being.