Mental health problems represent a potentially important but relatively unexplored factor in explaining human capital accumulation during college. We conduct the first study, to our knowledge, of how mental health predicts academic success during college in a random longitudinal sample of students. We find that depression is a significant predictor of lower GPA and higher probability of dropping out, particularly among students who also have a positive screen for an anxiety disorder. In within-person estimates using our longitudinal sample, we find again that co-occurring depression and anxiety are associated with lower GPA, and we find that symptoms of eating disorders are also associated with lower GPA. This descriptive study suggests potentially large economic returns from programs to prevent and treat mental health problems among college students, and highlights the policy relevance of evaluating the impact of such programs on academic outcomes using randomized trials.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
∗This study was funded by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Michigan and the following units at the University of Michigan: the Comprehensive Depression Center (Innovation Fund), the School of Public Health, the Department of Health Management and Policy (McNerney Award), the Rackham Graduate School, and the Office for the Vice President of Research. During the writing of this paper Ezra Golberstein was funded by NIMH (T32 postdoctoral traineeship) and Justin Hunt was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program. We are grateful for helpful comments from Martha Bailey, Jason Fletcher, Richard Frank, Tom McGuire, Ellen Meara, Kevin Stange, Jacob Vigdor, two anonymous reviewers and participants in the University of Michigan informal labor economics seminar. We are also grateful to Scott Crawford and the Survey Sciences Group for implementing the web surveys, to Sarah Gollust and Jennifer Hefner for assistance developing the Healthy Minds Study, and to Andy Cameron for assistance acquiring the administrative data.
- Higher education
- Human capital
- Mental health