Impact of edcuation on mental health

Recent research has now provided one more reason for us to stay in school, pursue post-secondary education and continued learning throughout our lives - education is good for our mental health.

In earlier columns I have highlighted the importance of keeping the mind fit in order to prevent Alzheimer's as we age. Education (both formal and informal) is a good way to do this. However, new research is showing that there are further ties between education and good mental health.

One study of adults in the UK found that individuals who had achieved their O-level qualifications (equivalent to our grade 12) reduced their risk of depression at age 42 by five percent.

In this study, these effects remained even after accounting for socio-economic factors such as employment, income or family circumstances. Effects were also found to be more pronounced among female subjects although for both genders, higher education was associated with better mental health.

There are several possible reasons for the positive effect of education on mental health. First, the more educated we are, the more able we may be to process information. This could result in increased health awareness, shortened time before seeking treatment for health problems (mental or physical), and more accurate adherence to a treatment program.

Not only will we have an improved health consciousness and awareness of treatment options, but with more education comes improved critical understanding and the ability to determine what constitutes valid health information and what are bogus or harmful claims.

Education may also improve our mental health in an indirect way by affecting our socioeconomic conditions such as income and employment. Some studies have found a relationship between socioeconomic factors and health.

This study controlled for childhood determinants such as upbringing as well as school characteristics and changes in educational policies that might have affected the students. Researchers found that education improves mental health regardless of the individual's initial level of mental health.

Other studies have found that higher levels of education increase the likelihood of being happy and healthy in later years as well as improving self-esteem.

Since mental illness presents a huge cost to society - on both a personal and economic level, any means of lessening this burden should be explored by business and government.

Education may be another instrument through which we could positively affect mental health in Canada. Government investment in education and increased access and quality for all Canadians may have positive impacts for mental health.At the very least, it is another good reason to encourage ourselves and our children to value ongoing education as an important building block for a successful and balanced life.

Keep learning something new every day.


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