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  • Writer's pictureIsabella Maire

Student Debt and Mental Health


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We hear about it all the time: Student Debt. It's become a hot topic in politics in recent years. You may be a part of the 43.6 million Americans who have to pay it right now and for years to come (1). Someone who is reading this probably struggles with paying for it as well. Student debt, some see it as a necessary expense, yet others see it as the bane of their existence.

Statistics about Student Debt

As mentioned above, in the United States right now, there are 43.6 million people who are in debt with federal student loans. The total amount of student loan debt has reached 1.766 trillion dollars in the United States in 20231. With that being said, the amount owed by each individual averages out to $37,7181. Currently, a student that wishes to attend a public university, can expect to borrow up to $32,000 on average in student loans1. These statistics don't even include the actual amount that a student pays up front just to attend, but they only include the amount in loans owed. Some people are even in the hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.


Race also plays a factor into the amounts owed. A study found that African Americans have to borrow more than their White counterparts and often have to pay more over the years in interest (2). Due to Black households having less wealth, family financial support is also out of the question, so many Black college graduates often have to work even more just to help pay off their debt, with many having to choose careers outside of their degree.


You can find more details on the actual statistics here at:

Can student debt affect my mental health?

Student debt falls under financial stress, which as the name suggests, can be very stressful. Dealing with financial stress and paying off student loans can have very negative consequences on your mental health, especially if you are barely scraping by to help pay it off along with any other necessary expense that you may have.

Often, those who struggle with paying their student loans may resort to different ways of coping that can prove to be unhealthy for them or even detrimental. A recent study found a correlation between student debt, problematic drinking, stress and anxiety among people who had unstable socioeconomic statuses (3). Having to pay so much can leave a person just wanting a way to escape from all the stress. They may often be the victim of burnout from having to work more than 1 job while still trying to find time for their loved ones.


As mentioned before, African Americans especially may find that their mental health is negatively affected by student loans. In a survey that was conducted, researchers found that 64% of African Americans felt that their student loan debt had a negative impact on their mental health (2). Some of the respondents went as far to say that they felt a sense of regret in obtaining a degree in knowing how much they would have to pay back. Some asked what was the point of getting a degree in the first place.


Outside of just unhealthy coping mechanisms, a person's mental health can be seriously at risk in certain instances. Back in 2021, a survey of 2300 people found that 1 in 14 people who were paying back student loans were suicidal (4). With so many people having to spend decades paying back their loans, it may often seem like paying them back is a hopeless objective. It doesn't help that many loan officers simply worry about the money being paid back rather than the actual health of the person. With interest rates also becoming really high and adding up over the years, it can feel like you’re just working to pay off debt.

Dealing with this financial stress can also become a cycle in which you feel like you can never break out of. Financial stress can cause physical and mental illness. When you become physically/mentally ill, it can be harder to manage your money and even work. When it's hard to manage your money or work, you will feel even more financial stress which will cause the cycle to start back up again (5).



debt stress piggy bank



Tips on how to pay back your student loans

If you relate to any of the above symptoms or situations above, we want to remind you to not lose hope. Here are a few tips that can come in handy when it comes to paying off your student loans:

  1. Become familiar with current news on student loans

  2. Make a budget.

  3. Take care of yourself.

For better tips on how to pay back your student loans visit these websites that offer advice on student loan repayment and general financial security principles.



relax hope person on mountain

How to take care of your mental health under financial stress

Your happiness and peace doesn’t have to depend on your financial circumstances. Living with student loan debt can be very overwhelming so taking time for yourself is essential. If not, you may find yourself in the financial stress cycle mentioned from before. Here are a few things that you can do to focus on taking care of yourself:


  • Spend time with friends, family, and/or loved ones

  • Reach out for professional help with a therapist

  • Eat healthy foods that fall within your budget

  • Prioritize getting quality sleep

  • Practice gratitude

  • At the end of the day, there is always hope. You have the capacity to get through these tough, financial times.


References



This blog was written by Alessandro Gemio, edited by Izzy Maire, and reviewed/approved by Taylor Madsen, LMFT, and Hailey Maire, LCSW.


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