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Mental Health Disorders, Health Behaviors, and Attitudes Toward and the Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine among Graduate Students


Background: There is a paucity of research describing the associations between mental health disorders, health behaviors, and attitudes and the use of complementary alternative medicine (CAM) among graduate students.

Aims: To 1) compare mental health disorders (e.g., depression and anxiety), health behaviors (eating habits, sleep, exercise), and attitudes toward and the use of CAM of graduate students from different disciplines; 2) identify the most commonly used CAM modalities among graduate students; and 3) explore associations between sociodemographic variables (e.g., age, gender, discipline, social hierarchy), mental health disorders, health behaviors, and attitudes toward and the use of CAM.

Methods: An online survey was administered from June 2018 to March 2019 to graduate students at a western state university in the U.S. Validated instruments were used to measure mental health disorders, health behaviors, attitudes toward and the use of CAM. One-Way ANOVA and chi-square were used to compare outcomes of interest and Pearson’s r and Spearman’s rho were used to explore bivariate correlations, respectively, depending on the level of measurement.

Results: A total of 256 graduate students completed the survey, 68% female, and represented Arts/Humanities (9%), Professional (27%), Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) (32%), and Social Sciences/Social Ecology (31%) disciplines. Symptoms of depression scores were higher among students from Arts/Humanities, STEM, and Social Sciences/Social Ecology compared to those from Professional disciplines. Anxiety scores were highest among Arts/Humanities students when compared to all other disciplines. Eating at regular times during the day, getting adequate sleep, and increased exercise were associated with reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. Older age was associated with worse attitudes about CAM while sleep, exercise, and attitudes toward CAM were correlated with the use of CAM.

Discussion/Conclusion: Findings show that symptoms of depression and anxiety are highly prevalent among graduate students. This study highlights graduate students’ health behaviors and attitudes toward and the use of CAM that may compliment efforts of university administration in creating wellness programs that support mental health and potentially reduce mental health disorders.

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