Prevalence and correlates of depression and anxiety disorders in U.S. graduate students

Date
2011-08
Authors
Barton, Barbara
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Abstract

The purpose of this study was to examine the prevalence, correlates and predictors of depression and anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder) among a national sample of U.S. graduate students. In recent decades, depression and anxiety disorders have become increasingly prevalent on college campuses; however, few studies have explored the factors that lead to these illnesses among graduate students. To address this knowledge gap and inform campus mental health programming, this epidemiological study was conducted using secondary data collected from graduate students (N=4477) in 2010 as part of the national Healthy Minds Study. Demographic and social factors and lifestyle and health-related behaviors were used to predict screening positive for depression and/or anxiety disorders, as measured by the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ), a validated and reliable screening instrument. Statistical analyses were conducted, including cross tabulation and multiple regression.

Prevalence testing results showed that 14% screened positive for depression, which included major depression and other depressive disorder, and 9.5% screened positive for anxiety disorders, which included generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. About 19% screened positive for either depression or anxiety disorders, and 4.4% screened positive for both mental illnesses. These findings indicate these mental illnesses may be as prevalent among graduate students as they are among undergraduates, and perhaps more prevalent than among the U.S. general population. In logistic regression modeling, the strongest predictors of screening positive included: a) having a sexual orientation other than heterosexual; b) being single, divorced or widowed; c) having financial problems when growing up; and d) experiencing discrimination. The strongest protector was exercising three or more times per week. The results of this study have important implications for university health promotion programs, which have largely ignored graduate students. Universities are in a unique position to identify and intervene before mental health problems occur or become serious, but are largely missing this opportunity when it comes to graduate students.

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Keywords
Mental health, Health and environmental sciences, Generalized anxiety disorder, Panic disorder, University health promotion programs
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