Mental Health Review: Student Loan Stress


In America, the average cost of tuition and fees has gone from $2,600 at a public college or university in 1976 to $9650 in 2016, according to College Board. We are seeing rising costs of education including tuition, fees, room, board, and books. The number of students taking out student loans, and the amount of those loans, has also increased. In addition, FinAid notes that student loan interest rates have fluctuated dramatically over the past few decades as well.

Students are being burdened with more debt while attempting to pursue a college education, and this growing debt comes with several side effects, including an impact on mental health. This impact can manifest in several ways, and may even be severe.


Student loan debt is accelerating at such a high rate that it has become a burden. The total US student debt is now at $1.4 trillion, and the average student debt in 2017 is now $37,172.

The Pew Research Center also notes that student loans can have major impacts on students after leaving college, including a much higher rate of graduates having more than one job when they have outstanding student loan debt than without any debt. Many college graduates with outstanding loans have more than one job, while fewer students in the same group without loans are doing the same thing.

Impact of Debt on Mental Health

We don’t hear as much as we should about the mental health crisis facing student borrowers. We should be hearing more about putting off life milestones and struggling with repayment because the burden of debt has the potential to become a major crisis.

A 2015 study by the University of South Carolina notes that students with loan debt are more likely to suffer from mental health issues, according to Generation Progress. A Gallup poll also found that students and graduates who have $50,000 or more in debt are less likely than those without high amounts of debt to be thriving in 4 of 5 elements of well-being. The main elements are purpose, financial, community, and physical.

Common Mental Health Issues in College Students

College students can be very susceptible to mental and emotional health issues for a variety of reasons, and they can suffer from many different mental and emotional health issues. Good Therapy notes that more than 75% of mental health conditions appear before age 24. For many people, symptoms may first develop while in college. The University of Michigan also has some good information on this.

Stress and Anxiety

College can be stressful both academically and socially for students. Penn State’s Center for Collegiate Mental Health notes that anxiety is the number one mental health concern for students, and Boston University notes that anxiety and depression, the other leading concerns for college students, can frequently occur in tandem.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America notes that there is a difference between everyday anxiety caused by the stress of college and an anxiety disorder. They also note that anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health disorders on college campuses.

When it comes to debt, the American Psychological Association argues that student loan debt impacts students and alumni alike, making them anxious about the future both while in school and after.


Anxiety and depression can often appear together. The National Institute of Mental Health notes that feeling sad or anxious is normal for everyone sometimes, but depression is a mental illness with varying degrees of severity and symptoms. The Mayo Clinic also notes that college students can be especially susceptible to depression because of the challenges, pressures, anxieties, and major life changes that they are facing during the college years.

Eating Disorders

There are many types of eating disorders, and they can affect people of all ages. However, according to the Walden Center for Education and Research, eating disorders are especially prominent among college students, with 20% of college students saying they have or previously had eating disorders.

The Child Mind Institute also notes that college students, and especially young women, are most likely to develop eating disorders. Active Minds notes that anxiety and depression can be linked to eating disorders and all of these illnesses can progress to serious illnesses or suicide if left untreated.


The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that substance abuse issues in college students have been on the rise in recent decades and that these numbers are serious enough that resources for students dealing with addiction are becoming more accessible.

Treatment and Recovery

Chadron State College notes that there are many resources, both online and on many campuses, for college students to receive treatment for mental illness as well as everyday stress and anxiety. The National Alliance on Mental Illness also notes that mental illness still has a stigma attached to it, This may leave college students concerned about the opinions of their peers and cause them to be reluctant abut having conversations about mental health. Because of this, they may delay or avoid seeking out treatment for mental illness. However, as the stigma continues to lessen and colleges and universities recognize the need to mental health resources, hopefully, more college students will have access to and feel comfortable with treatment.

Emergency Care and Resources

Mental illness and anxiety, especially when untreated, can sometimes require emergency care and resources. The American Psychiatric Association notes that mental health visits to the emergency room can be lifesaving, but many mental health patients are overlooked and forced to wait longer than those seeking physical help.

The US Department of Health and Human Services notes that if you need immediate medical help there are several resources. You should never wait if you feel suicidal or that you or those around you are in immediate danger. There are several resources that you can utilize, including 911 and the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255.

Additional Resources

College students and graduates can life-changing decisions, events, and experiences as well as rapidly rising costs for higher education. Mental illness or disorders can result from or be exacerbated during this time. Here are some additional resources on loans and mental health and how to get help for anxiety and mental illness: