Are Highly Educated at Greater Risk for Mental Health Problems?
A new study suggests that adults who have advanced degreesare more at risk for poor mental health than the general U.S. population. Cheryl Koopman and her colleagues studied 460 people who responded in to a survey that had been mailed to 8,500 randomly selected employees at a Northern California worksite. Fifty-one percent of participants held either a masters or doctoral degree.
The study’s authors report that this is the first study of work place mental health to focus on a workforce that is predominantly highly educated. Cheryl Koopman and her colleagues studied 460 people who responded in full to a survey mailed to around 8,500 randomly selected employees at a Northern California worksite. Fifty-one percent of participants held either a master’s or doctoral degree.
The authors reported surprise that theirhighly educatedparticipants reported poor mental health, when compared to national norms. An earlier study bydifferent researchershad foundthat highly educated workers experienced greater stress when faced with potential layoffs than their less-educated counterparts. The authorsoriginally designed this study to identify characteristics of workers who had better or worse mental health than others; reporting that”highly educated workers constitute a large and growing sector of the U.S workforce. It is vital to have a good understanding of the mental health status of this population.”
Subjects answered questions that were used to assess their overall mental health status. The researchers compared these answers to other questions that measured
their perceived satisfaction with home and work life
whether they were taking antidepressant medications or had a current drinking problem
their coping with problems in their lives
stressful events that they had recently experienced
the frequency of their visitsto health care professionals
Subjectsscoredin the bottom 32nd percentile of the overall U.S. population on the mental health measurements. The authors reported that subjectswith the lowest mental health scores were more likely to be young, report higher levels of work or home stress, engage in harmful drinking, use antidepressantsand have poor coping skills for their stresses.
The authors speculated “Perhaps older employees benefit from having a sense of confidence that they can face ongoing life stressors that are often similar to others with which they have successfully coped previously, whereas younger persons are less confident- given their relative lack of experience.”
Women with advanced degrees scored higher on overall mental health than men with such degrees. This was a somewhat surprising results, since other epidemiological studies have found that women are more likely to suffer from some mental health problemsthan men.
The main weakness of this study is that it was performed at a single worksite. It’s really not possible (yet) to say that highly educated people in other settings have poorer mental health.