Mental health, coping strategies and help-seeking behaviours among Polish university students in the UK

  • Katarzyna Maciagowska

Student thesis: Doctor of Counselling Psychology


Background and context: Migration and acculturative stress were found to contribute to a range of mental health problems amongst heterogeneous migrant populations around the world, including the Polish people. Although Polish individuals recently became the largest migrant group in the United Kingdom (UK), little is known about the mental health needs of specific sub-groups within that population. Because international university students were found to be at risk of developing mental health problems, this thesis focused on addressing the gap in research by investigating the subjective experiences of mental health among a group of Polish university students in British higher education (HE) settings. Coping strategies and professional help-seeking behaviours were also explored to aid provision of tailored mental health support for this group. Methodology: The study adopted a qualitative approach so as to generate a rich understanding of the subjective experience of the participants. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight Polish students currently studying in HE settings. These focused on exploring their experience and perception of mental health, the coping strategies that they adopt as well as attitudes towards professional help-seeking. Data was analysed by means of thematic analysis. In order to be transparent about the stages of analysis, reflexive elements and clear audit trails are provided. Findings: Data analysis revealed three main themes relating to the first part of the research exploring the experience of mental health. These were: (1) reported mental health difficulties, (2) the main sources of distress for Polish students and (3) positive influences on mental health. Two main themes were identified when analysing the experience of coping strategies. These included: (1) support from others, and (2) self-care. The third part of the research, devoted to understanding help-seeking behaviours, identified two main themes of: (1) barriers to seeking support and (2) facilitators to help-seeking. Conclusions: This research provided a contribution to the understanding of the subjective experience of a group of Polish university students in three different domains relating to mental health. The findings highlighted the psychological vulnerability of this participant group due to factors largely consistent with those suggested by previous research into mental health distress among international university students. Despite such general similarities, specific differences were found. For instance, support (professional and informal) offered in the Polish language was valued in terms of help-seeking and coping by the majority of the participants. Further, the findings indicated that a socio-cultural event of Brexit exerted a particularly negative effect on the wellbeing of the studied population of students, who are a part of the largest immigrant group in the UK. Recommendations for practice and further research are discussed.
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorTerry Hanley (Supervisor) & Laura Winter (Supervisor)

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