Are you in student loan debt?

If you are, you’re not alone. In 2018, there were more than 44 million people who collectively owed over $1.5 trillion in student loan debt alone. Paying back the loans is awful in and of itself, but unfortunately, there’s more bad news. Turns out, having an enormous debt of money hanging over your head and making claims on your hard-earned money is even worse for your mental health than it is for your bank account.

How does debt cause depression and other mental health issues?

One of the first and most common mental repercussions of extreme student loan debt is depression. Not only do student loan payments prevent payers from choosing exactly how to spend their money (because most of it is going straight to student loan payments), the nearly inconceivable student loan amounts can make it impossible to see a light at the end of the tunnel. When borrowers are unable to see a future in which they have their loans paid off and can spend their paychecks on things like entertainment, home ownership, and even building their families, it is difficult to fully invest in the future.

A 2013 study showed that student debt specifically had a major impact on borrowers’ overall physical and mental health. The study focused on students at the University of South Carolina and set out to demonstrate the connection between student debt and the health of students. Unsurprisingly, the results found that student loan debt had a strong negative effect on the psychological functioning of their participants (and this was after factoring in students’ other possible depression-causing personal issues).

Stress, depression, and mental health issues are bad enough on their own, but these mental health problems can easily and silently segue into physical ailments and conditions. High stress can increase diastolic blood pressure, putting sufferers at higher risk for hypertension and stroke.

Is debt ever good?

In some situations, student loan debt can actually motivate people and give them a goal to work towards instead of leading down the slippery slope of depression. The University of South Carolina study in 2013 showed that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds actually tested better in terms of mental health than their middle-class counterparts. Analysis of these results have prompted a number of theories: it’s possible that these students are better able to deal with financial stress, that they see even the negative consequences of higher education (like student loan debt) as a step up the socioeconomic ladder, or that for some people, student loan debt is a motivator for socioeconomic movement and growth instead of a depressor.

What can you do if your student loan debt is destroying your mental health?

Although college costs continue to rise, experts still say that college is a good choice. So what’s a student loan debt sufferer supposed to do? Your first step should be sharing about your struggles and feelings: talk about what you’re going through with friends, family, a therapist, and/or a financial advisor. You might feel like you’re all alone in your fight against student loan debt, but you are so very not. Chances are, many of the people closest to you are dealing with the same thing — 2 out of every 5 adults in the US under 30 have student loan debt. Talking through your worries and stresses can be an incredibly positive step in terms of your mental and physical health.

As difficult as it might seem when you’re paying down a mountain of debt, make work-life balance a priority. Remember to take time for yourself and invest your time and energy in your favorite activities: spend time with friends, exercise, and do the things that make you happy to be alive. Student loan debt can be crushing, but with the right outside help and the knowledge that debt is not all there is, you can finally reach the day where student loan payments are a thing of the past.