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Anecdotal evidence has long supported the idea that engineering students have lower levels of mental health and wellness than their peers. It is often posited that the large number of courses, low overall retention, difficult courses, and the abundance of intensive engineering projects lead to an unhealthy work-life balance and eventually lower levels of mental health for this population. To date, however, there has been no comprehensive study on the prevalence and types of mental health conditions that afflict engineering students, or any data on whether certain disciplines within engineering may see a greater prevalence of certain mental health conditions among students than other disciplines.
This paper presents the results of a one-year study performed at California Polytechnic State University to address the knowledge gap surrounding mental health across students in different engineering disciplines in higher education. For this study, the authors developed and administered a comprehensive mental health questionnaire to both undergraduate and graduate students across eleven different engineering disciplines. The instrument screens for likelihood of depression, anxiety, PTSD, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and other major mental illnesses. An analysis of the data shows that while mental health and wellness issues are prevalent across all majors, specific disciplines appear to have very different mixes of conditions and issues affecting their students.
Andrew Danowitz received his PhD in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University in 2014, and is currently an Associate Professor of Computer Engineering at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. His research interests involve student mental health and accessibility in engineering education.
Kacey Beddoes is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. She received her Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from Virginia Tech, along with graduate certificates in Women’s and Gender Studies and Engineering Education. Dr. Beddoes serves as Deputy Editor of the journal Engineering Studies and as Chair of the SEFI Working Group on Gender and Diversity. Further information can be found on her website: www.sociologyofengineering.org
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