Students At Private, Prestigious Universities Exhibit Fewer Mental Health Problems, Study Finds
ATLANTA — Attending a more expensive and prestigious university might bode well for your mental health, a new study finds.
Researchers at Georgia Tech analyzed five years of Reddit data from students at some of the nation’s top universities, specifically seeking comments that seemed to mention a given student struggling with depression, financial and academic stress, or suicidal ideations.
Specific schools were indexed by the researchers on the basis of the frequency and robustness of threads and discussions centered on mental health issues, and given a score.
Overall, going to a school that was prestigious, private, predominantly male, or had high tuition was associated with scoring well on the index.
The study, which examined 109 of the top 150 universities as ranked by U.S. News and World Report, did not identify the results of particular schools by name.
Nevertheless, it is clear that the study’s specific parameters were only enabled by the rapid rise of social media.
“Online conversations about mental health issues are definitely increasing,” notes lead researcher, Munmun De Choudhury, an assistant professor in GT’s School of Interactive Computing, in a university press release. “We saw it rise 16 percent from 2011 to 2015, even after we took into account that Reddit has become more popular in recent years.”
The researchers believe they have decent explanations for many of their findings.
Tuition anxiety, for example, is likely demonstrated more so at public schools due to students often coming from a less privileged background. The diverse student bodies at public universities are also likely linked to a higher propensity for one to share their troubles.
Meanwhile, it might seem natural to blame a student body disproportionately comprised of women for poor mental health scores, but it’s not that simple.
“Research has traditionally shown that females are more likely to express their emotions and feelings whether in an offline setting or social media. It’s not that they have poorer mental health — it’s that they’re more likely to talk about their troubles while online,” explains Choudhury.
The study also found that posts related to mental health tended to grow in number near the end of a semester (e.g., in November and May).
De Choudhury has led similar studies in which the expression of other health issues, including depression and eating disorders, made through social media were examined.
“We wanted to see if we could do something more collectively at the campus level before digging deeper to understand the challenges individuals might be facing,” she says. “Perhaps this data can be used to help campus administrators as they create policies in real-time to benefit student bodies dealing with stress and anxieties.”
The study’s findings were presented at the 2017 ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Denver.