Here’s an Advantage of a College Education: Better Mental Health

There has been much wordsmithing in the bloggysphere about whether college is worth the cost. Well, there seems to be a correlation–a positive one–between college education and mental health:


“Percentage” is the population-adjusted percentage (go figure) of those who are suffering from serious psychological distress. The methods:

Serious psychological distress based on responses to the questions, “During the past 30 days, how often did you feel 1) so sad that nothing could cheer you up, 2) nervous, 3) restless or fidgety, 4) hopeless, 5) that everything was an effort, or 6) worthless?” Response codes for the six items for each person were summed to yield a point value on a 0–24 point scale. A value of 13 or more was used to define serious psychological distress.

As best as I can tell, ‘none of the time’ scores 0 points, ‘a little of the time’ scores 1 point, ‘some of the time’ scores 2 points, ‘most of the time’ scores 3 points, and ‘all of the time’ is 4 points (so you can test yourself!).

As the study* notes (boldface mine):

During 2010–2013, the total age-adjusted percentage of adults aged ≥25 years with serious psychological distress in the past 30 days was 3.5%. As educational attainment increased, the percentage with serious psychological distress decreased among both men and women. Serious psychological distress was six times higher for adults aged ≥25 years with less than a high school diploma (6.1% for men and 8.3% for women), compared with adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher (1.0% for men and 1.3% for women). At all education levels, women were more likely than men to experience serious psychological distress.

At the risk of igniting a firestorm, I wonder to what extent the elevated rates of distress among women could be attributed to abuse. Regardless, it does appear college is good for your mental health (well, maybe after you’ve left….)

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4 Responses to Here’s an Advantage of a College Education: Better Mental Health

  1. jonathan says:

    If the question asks about the past 30 days, then the response is expected to change over time. A possible explanation is economics. Perhaps higher educated people are less likely to experience financial related distress. People may equate unemployment/underemployment with hopelessness/worthlessness, which are response options to get a high score. I wonder if the differences in scores are proportional to the differences in incomes or employment rates between education levels and sex.

  2. Iain says:

    Or perhaps mental health issues arise in youth and persist for life, and people with mental health issues are less likely to go to college.

  3. Anon says:

    Or if you experienced serious psychological distress in your life you are less likely to continue your education?

  4. Barbara says:

    Of course, serious psychological distress makes it difficult to deal with school, decreasing the probability that you’ll get a college degree.

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