Behavioral Health, Mental Health, Substance Abuse
Anxiety, Depression, and Substance Use Among Graduate Students
(UMD SPH Behavioral and Community Health Doctoral Student )
Objectives. Substance use and mental health problems are associated with negative outcomes among undergraduate students, but little is known about these relationships in graduate students. Some studies have documented that a substantial proportion of graduate students report symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, and the majority consume alcohol. This secondary analysis study of graduate students aimed to describe: (1) mental health prior to enrollment in graduate school; and (2) patterns of substance use disorders during graduate school. Approach. Data were derived from a longitudinal study of young adults who attended college at a large, mid-Atlantic university. Participants were assessed as first-year undergraduate students (Year 1) and then in each subsequent year (Years 2 through 8) and again in Years 10 and 12. Variables of interest were parental history, symptoms, and lifetime diagnoses or treatment of anxiety and depression prior to graduate school enrollment (Year 4) and meeting DSM-IV criteria for alcohol or cannabis abuse/dependence during graduate school (Years 5 through 12). Students in master’s, doctorate, and professional degree programs were compared. Findings. Of the 1,253 young adults studied, 579 (59% female; 68% non-Hispanic white) enrolled in graduate school at some point during the study. Sixty-six percent (n = 380) of graduate students enrolled in master’s degree programs and 34% (n = 199) enrolled in doctorate or professional degree programs. Prior to graduate school enrollment, 14% of graduate students had a lifetime history of anxiety, 17% had a lifetime history of depression, 41% had a parental history of anxiety, and 39% had a parental history of depression. Doctorate/professional students were significantly more likely to have a lifetime history of depression than master’s students. Annual prevalence estimates of abuse/dependence ranged from 22% to 46% for alcohol and 5% to 11% for cannabis. Conclusions and Public Health Significance. This study provides preliminary evidence of the mental health problems and prevalence of substance use disorders among graduate students from diverse academic disciplines. Future research should explore the impact of both mental health problems and substance use on enrollment and completion of graduate degree programs, with stratified analyses by academic discipline and type of degree.