Does More Student Loan Debt Mean More Mental Health Issues?

diploma, cap, and cashThe cost of higher education has, according to Bloomberg Business, increased 13-fold since 1978, greatly outpacing the rate of inflation. Employers increasingly require workers to have college degrees, with Georgetown University predicting that by 2020, 60% of jobs will require some college education.

This career training is increasingly posing massive burdens on newly minted college graduates, with the Project on Student Debt reporting that the average 2013 graduate had $28,400 in debt. According to the first nationally representative study on the effects of student debt, this crushing burden exacts a hefty toll on young adults’ mental health.

How Does Student Debt Affect Mental Health?

To evaluate how student debt might affect emotional well-being, researchers pulled data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997. Pulling data from recent graduates ranging in age from 25 to 31, researchers adjusted for factors that might affect mental health, such as parental income and childhood socioeconomic status. They found that even with these adjustments, students with higher debt loads had more mental health issues. Depression was common among those with more debt, suggesting that a mountain of debt may lead to feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and sadness in some recent graduates.

The Far-Reaching Effects of Student Debt

Student debt is one of the few obligations that can’t be discharged in bankruptcy, which means that people saddled with debt will carry that debt until they’re able to pay it off. The study was correlational, which means it did not establish that student debt causes depression or other mental health conditions. However, its authors highlight the myriad sociocultural effects of student debt, arguing that these issues can spur mental health concerns. For example, high student debt may affect career options, cause recent graduates to delay or forgo marriage and childrearing, or limit health care choices.


  1. How are student loans affecting the well-being of young adults? (2015, January 22). Retrieved from
  2. Jamrisko, M., and Kolet, I. (2014, August 18). College tuition costs soar: Chart of the day. Retrieved from
  3. State by state data. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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  • Corinthian


    February 2nd, 2015 at 10:32 AM

    Back when I still owed on my student loans, yes I worried about it a lot. It made it even more critical that I find a job right after graduating and I didn’t really have that time to play around and figure out what I wanted to do with this degree. I just had to find something that would pay the bills. I guess in some ways I was kind of jealous of those who did not have this debt after college because that was more time that they had, fewer things to worry about. But now? I am glad that I paid for school myself, on my own with no help, because I think that this made me appreciate it even more than I would have if someone else had footed the bill.

  • johanna


    February 2nd, 2015 at 3:58 PM

    This might be your only way to go to school. You know that it isn’t free money, so take advantage of it and pay it back. Easy as that

  • Dave


    February 3rd, 2015 at 3:49 AM

    Students who unknowingly take out loans that they will never be able to afford to pay back with the interest and repayment terms can find themselves in a real pickle upon graduation. I wish that much of this predatory lending would stop because there are some genuinely legit and affordable programs available to families that need them but you do have to do your research to make sure that you are going with a company that has your best interests in mind.

  • Martha h

    Martha h

    February 4th, 2015 at 11:02 AM

    I just find it so sad when young people have to work so long and so hard to pay back the money for something that you wish would be more affordable for them. You hate to think that they are working years and years to pay back debt from so long ago.

  • Donnie


    February 5th, 2015 at 11:55 AM

    I know that there have been those times when I have been stressed about making those payments back but I have always been able to work with my lender and while they might not be able to change my repayment terms, they have always worked with me if I needed to make a later payment or anything like that. You might have to be a little more proactive than what you may like, but it is all a part of growing up and taking care of grown up things.

  • travis b

    travis b

    February 6th, 2015 at 11:43 AM

    I am curious to know what the rest of you think would be the bigger problem today: having this much student debt when you graduate or never graduated from college at all?

    Personally I will take the debt and the degree

  • Martine S.

    Martine S.

    February 8th, 2015 at 2:24 PM

    Why isn’t anyone talking about holding the universities accountable for their spending? The average college campus today is WAY more posh than most businesses are. I think it’s that a bunch of helicopter parents are now running university budgets, and they can’t bear the thought of their precious little babies enduring the “hardship” of bare-bones classrooms, dorms, and cafeterias.

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