Study: More Education Does Not Guarantee Mental Well-Being

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Parents and educators tout that the more we know, the happier we will be — but it might not be true.

Education has been said to improve our health and our life span. College or graduate degrees have been shown to improve the quality of the lives of those fortunate enough to have attained a degree. But a new study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that education may not necessarily lead to greater happiness.

Authors of the study from Warwick Medical School found that all educational accomplishment is associated with mental well-being, being happy, and contentment, according to Lecia Bushak, writing for Medical Daily.

In the past, low levels of educational achievement had been linked to mental illness, so researchers wanted to know if the opposite would be true – would high levels of educational achievement lead to improved mental health? This, they found, was not always true.

“These findings are quite controversial because we expected to find the socioeconomic factors that are associated with mental illness would also be correlated with mental well-being,” Professor Sarah Stewart-Brown, an author of the study, said in the press release. “So if low educational attainment was strongly associated with mental illness, high educational attainment was strongly associated with mental illness, high educational attainment would be strongly connected to mental well-being. But that is not the case.

Research before this study seemed to point out that a better education would lead to higher salaries, finer homes and safer neighborhoods, as well as plenty of free time to take part in activities that lead to a healthy lifestyle. In 1980, a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that 25-year-old participants with some college education had an expectation of living an average of 54.4  more years, compared to 25-year-old participants who had only high school diplomas who had a life expectation of 51.6 more years. This could be because educated people have more money with which to acquire medical treatment and, possibly, educated people are capable of making more informed decisions about taking care of themselves.

In other studies, it has been shown that higher education can result in improved mental health in later life. Not only can education boost cognitive function, but it can make it easier for a person to pursue things they enjoy doing and find a mental flow, unlike those who find themselves in dead-end jobs with long hours and little pay. This new study announces that this is not always the case, and anyone can achieve mental well-being in spite of educational background, income, or job.

When conducting the study, researchers took into account factors such as financial status and mental well-being, which can be, but is not always, linked to mental illness. Participants numbered 17,030 and the data was from the Health Survey for England from 2010 and 2011. The findings indicated that individuals with a stronger sense of psychological well-being were much more likely to be happy and contented. When this was measured and compared to the standard of peoples’ educations, there was no clear connection to a person’s mental health, reports NetDoctor. The study’s author Professor Sarah Stewart-Brown said:

 “These findings are quite controversial because we expected to find the socioeconomic factors that are associated with mental illness would also be correlated with mental well-being. So if low educational attainment was strongly associated with mental illness, high educational attainment would be strongly connected to mental well-being. But that is not the case.”

She continued by stating that the study’s findings may change the planning of mental health programs, since considering the education level of patients may not be necessary.

According to Anna Hodgekiss of the Daily Mail, the new finding that education levels do not necessarily improve mental well-being might be attributed to the fact that people do not need to have extensive education to have a good work ethic, and if a person lives in an ethnic community there is often a good support structure.

In particular, African, African-Caribbean, Indian, and Pakistani communities showed substantially increased odds of mental well-being, says The Tribune of India.