Highly educated may be at greater risk for mental health problems

Highly educated workers seem to be at greater risk for poor mental health than the general U.S. population, a new study suggests. While other studies have examined workplace settings and mental health status, this is the first to focus on a workforce that is predominantly highly educated, say the study’s authors. From the Health Behavior News Service:HIGHLY EDUCATED MAY BE AT GREATER RISK FOR MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS

By M.A. Woodbury, Contributing Writer

Health Behavior News Service

Highly educated workers seem to be at greater risk for poor mental health than the general U.S. population, a new study suggests.

While other studies have examined workplace settings and mental health status, this is the first to focus on a workforce that is predominantly highly educated, say the study’s authors.

The finding that highly educated workers reported poor mental health, when compared to national norms, surprised the authors of the study, they say. They note that they “intended merely to identify characteristics of the employees who had worse mental health.” In the process, they found that study participants with advanced education received low scores on a mental health index, compared with the rest of the nation.

“Highly educated workers constitute a large and growing sector of the U.S workforce,” write Cheryl Koopman, Ph.D., and colleagues in the March/April issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion. “It is vital to have a good understanding of the mental health status of this population.”

A prior study by independent researchers demonstrated that highly educated workers experienced greater stress when faced with potential layoffs than their less-educated counterparts.

Koopman and colleagues used data from 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.

Study participants answered questions that were used to assess their overall mental health status. The researchers compared these answers with their responses to other questions to determine: their perceived satisfaction with home and work life; whether they were taking antidepressant medications or had a current drinking problem; how they coped with problems in their lives; whether they had recently experienced stressful events; and how frequently they visited health care professionals.

The mental health measurement put study participants, on average, at the bottom 32nd percentile of the overall U.S. population. Those with the lowest scores in overall mental health were more likely to be young, report higher levels of work or home stress, engage in harmful drinking, use antidepressants or have poor coping skills for their stresses.

“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,” the authors write.

The researchers noted a surprising gender difference in their findings: Women with advanced degrees scored higher on overall mental health than men with such degrees ? a finding that stands in contrast to data showing that women are more likely to suffer from mental health problems like depression than men are. That finding needs further study to be validated, however, Koopman and colleagues say.

One limitation of the study, they say, was the use of a single worksite: “We cannot generalize these findings to other highly educated worksites.”

Koopman and colleagues noted that “most of the factors associated with mental health are modifiable and could be addressed by worksite treatment and prevention programs.”

The study was supported by a grant from the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention.

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Health Behavior News Service: (202) 387-2829 or www.hbns.org.

Interviews: Contact M.A. Malone at [email protected] or (650) 327-1734.

American Journal of Health Promotion: Call (248) 682-0707 or visit www.healthpromotionjournal.com.

Center for the Advancement of Health

Contact: Ira R. Allen

Director of Public Affairs

202.387.2829

[email protected]


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2 thoughts on “Highly educated may be at greater risk for mental health problems”

  1. It stands to reason that you would be more stressed in an educated, competitive, higher paid, job environment compared to, say, stacking boxs for a living.
    I hope the good Dr. Koopman isn’t suprised by this.

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