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Dr. Paul LatimerResearch has provided another reason to stay in school, pursue post-secondary education and continue learning – education is good for our mental health.

In earlier columns, I have highlighted the importance of keeping the mind fit in order to prevent Alzheimer’s as we age. Education (formal and informal) is a good way to do this.

Now, research is showing that there are further ties between education and good mental health.

One study of United Kingdom adults found that individuals who had achieved their O-level qualifications (equivalent to our Grade 12) reduced their risk of depression at age 42 by five percent.

In this study, these effects remained even after accounting for socio-economic factors such as employment, income or family circumstances. Effects were also found to be more pronounced among female subjects although for both genders, higher education was associated with better mental health.

There are several possible reasons for the positive effect of education on mental health.

First, the more educated we are, the more able we may be to process information. This could result in increased health awareness, shortened time before seeking treatment for health problems (mental or physical), and more accurate adherence to a treatment program.

Not only will we have improved health consciousness and awareness of treatment options, but with more education comes improved critical understanding, and the ability to determine what constitutes valid health information and what are bogus or harmful claims.

Education may also improve our mental health in an indirect way, by affecting our socio-economic conditions such as income and employment. Some studies have found a relationship between socio-economic factors and health.

The study controlled for childhood determinants such as upbringing, school characteristics and changes in educational policies that might have affected the students. Researchers found that education improves mental health regardless of the individual’s initial level of mental health.

Other studies have found that higher levels of education increase the likelihood of being happy and healthy in later years, as well as improving self-esteem.

Since mental illness presents a huge cost to society – on personal and economic levels – any means of lessening this burden should be explored by business and government.

Education may be another instrument through which we could positively affect mental health in Canada. Government investment in education, and increased access and quality for all Canadians, may have positive impacts for mental health.

At the very least, it is another good reason to encourage and value ongoing education. It’s an important building block for a successful and balanced life.

Keep learning something new every day.

Dr. Latimer is president of Okanagan Clinical Trials and a Kelowna psychiatrist.

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