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Overeducated people might have increased risk of mental distress

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With the rise of cost in college education, many people are finding they are not making nearly enough money to pay off their student loans. With financial stress adding to the daunting emotional effects towards their work, it’s no wonder depression has become a factor in this decade.

The study defines individuals as "overeducated" if they have completed more years of school than needed for their job. This group has an increased risk of certain mental health problems, according to results discussed in LiveScience. Researchers measured depression levels and tracked educational attainment for more than 16,600 employed people between the ages of 25 and 60, in 21 countries. Participants whose education levels exceeded those required for their jobs were found to be more prone to mental health problems.

Part of the cause for this trend could be that these individuals are not challenged in the workplace and are unable to use many of the skills they mastered in school, Piet Bracke, a sociology professor at Ghent University in Belgium and member of the research team, told LiveScience. He said these workers also tend to have positions with less status and prestige, and they may have unbalanced support networks, meaning they look to others for more support than these individuals can give.

"At the country level, if the number of people with university education continues to rise, [and] if there isn´t an equivalent upgrading of the labor market, it will deteriorate the mental health of the population," Bracke said.

Also contributing to mental distress was a lack of prestige or status in their job titles. Bracke also said some over-educated people were relying on others for support more than they could afford to give it.

Piet Bracke is a full professor at the Department of Sociology. He teaches general sociological courses at the undergraduate level: introduction in sociology, the sociology of social problems, sociological research and methods– and more specialized master courses in the sociology of health and illness. His research focuses on gender issues and the sociology of the family; social epidemiology from a comparative perspective; mental health, mental health services research are important fields of research too.

Past research has found that those with lower education levels have double the risk of having severe and frequent symptoms of depression compared to those with more education, however the risk seems to vary by country.

This new study also discovered that having many highly educated people in a given country can have detrimental effects on the mental health of all people with college degrees. Bracke said that in countries were more education didn´t provide significantly more job security or salary, even those with degrees who had jobs matching their skill level saw declines in their mental health on average.

Bracke concluded: "If the economic returns of education decrease, it affects the mental health of all the well-educated."

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