Tertiary education is particularly demanding for students with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), who often struggle with emotion regulation and are at greater risk of internalising disorders compared to their peers. Self-compassion is a skill associated with positive mental health and adaptive emotion regulation that might support students in managing the emotional challenges of studying with ADHD. We examined the relationship between ADHD traits and self-compassion in university students, as well as the mediating role of self-compassion and emotion regulation difficulties in mental health outcomes.
A sample of 232 university students aged 18 to 47 (M = 19.92, SD = 3.75) years completed an online survey measuring ADHD traits, self-compassion, emotion regulation difficulties, distress, and well-being.
Correlational analyses showed that higher ADHD traits were associated with higher self-criticism, isolation, and overidentification (i.e. uncompassionate self-responding; USR), but not with self-compassionate responding (i.e. self-kindness, common humanity, or mindfulness). Mediation analyses showed that USR partially mediated the relationship ADHD traits have with distress and fully mediated the relationship with well-being. Serial mediation analyses indicated that this occurred via emotion regulation.
The results help explain why university students with ADHD traits experience greater mental health difficulties than their peers and support the addition of self-compassion training in interventions that aim to support them.
This study is not preregistered.