Graduate school burnout and attrition: Examining associations with substance use, mental health problems, and academic support
Allen, Hannah Katherine
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There is a well-established connection between health and academic achievement among high school and undergraduate students. Despite the high prevalence of substance use and mental health problems during young adulthood, few studies have examined these relationships among graduate students. Two distinct but interrelated studies were conducted to examine substance use and mental health problems as potential contributors to graduate student burnout and attrition, both individually and in conjunction with academic support factors including advisor satisfaction, departmental support, and program climate. The selection of these variables was determined by an overarching socio-ecological framework, whereby academic success is driven by multiple spheres of influence. The first study utilized secondary data to understand the associations between patterns in alcohol consumption, marijuana use, and mental health during the undergraduate college years and graduate degree completion. The lack of association found between behavioral health during college and graduate degree completion might be due to a decrease in mental health and substance use problems during the post-college years, as well as a possible selection effect where those with mental health and substance use problems are less likely to enroll in graduate school. The second study involved primary data collection to examine the correlates of substance use, mental health problems, and academic support among a sample of graduate students, as well as evaluate the associations between these variables and three dimensions of burnout (exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy). Findings showed graduate student subgroups that might be at increased risk for behavioral health problems, particularly professional doctoral students and students enrolled in programs in the humanities and social sciences. High-risk alcohol use, stress, and depression symptoms were all associated with increased levels of burnout, but high levels of departmental and advisor support appeared to buffer this effect. This research is a first step in extending knowledge on the relationship between potentially modifiable health-related risk factors and graduate student burnout and attrition. This line of research has implications for graduate students, faculty, and administrators who are committed to improving student success and well-being.