A recently released investigation of mental health in British college students found a significant link between financial problems and risk of experiencing mental health issues. The authors highlight a cycle of financial hardship and poor mental health that could lead to more problems if left unaddressed.
College student mental health is an increasing problem in many parts of the world. In a 2013 survey, 95% of directors at U.S. college counseling centers reported seeing an increase in the number of students with significant mental health issues. Because many school counseling centers are unable to keep up with increasing mental health treatment needs, many researchers’ efforts are focused on reducing students’ exposure to factors that pose a threat to mental health, such as financial stress.
Student Finances and Mental Health: a Vicious Cycle?
Researchers surveyed 454 first-year college students at four different points in time during their first two years of college. They assessed mental health symptoms such as anxiety, depression, stress, and alcohol use. They also assessed financial variables, including level of family affluence based on assets and stress related to money concerns.alcohol dependence problems. Financial stress also predicted greater anxiety and alcohol issues over time.
The researchers also found that the students’ mental health could affect financial stress, leading to an association between poor mental health or substance dependence and more difficulty meeting financial needs later on. Depression was a factor when financial stress was tied to thoughts of leaving school.
Managing Financial Stress
These findings also suggest a serious negative association between student debt and poor mental health over time. Students who reported worrying about taking on debt to pay for school experienced higher amounts of anxiety and stress throughout the survey period.
The connection between financial pressure and poor mental health in college students is not a new finding. A 2013 study focused on the factors associated with finance-based anxiety (a common consequence of financial stress). The study included 180 college students who were receiving counseling at their university’s counseling center. Differences in financial anxiety were found to exist based on age, gender, and socioeconomic status. The identification and verification of such relationships may help in the development of interventions that would be effective across a wide range of groups.
Though completely changing a financial situation may not be possible, the study’s authors suggest students meet with a financial adviser at their school to seek help managing their finances. Because the survey findings show financial stress can fuel mental health issues, being proactive about managing finances may help prevent mental health from spiraling out of control.
- Archuleta, K. L., Dale, A., & Spann, S. M. (2013). College students and financial distress: Exploring debt, financial satisfaction, and financial anxiety [PDF file]. Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning, 24(2), 50.
- College students’ mental health is a growing concern, survey finds. (2013, June). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/06/college-students.aspx
- Novotney, A. (2014). Students under pressure. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/09/cover-pressure.aspx
- Pain, E. (2016, October 4). Tackling the ‘vicious cycle’ of financial challenges and poor mental health. Retrieved from http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2016/10/tackling-vicious-cycle-financial-challenges-and-poor-mental-health
- Richardson, T., Elliott, P., Roberts, R., & Jansen, M. (2016). A longitudinal study of financial difficulties and mental health in a national sample of British undergraduate students. Community Mental Health Journal. doi:10.1007/s10597-016-0052-0
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