Student loans are associated with poorer psychological health for both college students and young adults who’ve graduated, according to the results of new research that will not shock anyone who has ever faced the daunting task of paying off such debt. But the study, published in the January edition of Social Science & Medicine, is notable because it’s among the first to establish a link between student loans and a decrease in mental health in the scientific literature.
Lead author Katrina M. Walsemann of the University of South Carolina and her team used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, analyzing responses on mental well-being and educational loans from 4,643 Americans born between 1980 and 1984. As they suspected, their results did indeed show that those with student loans were more likely to exhibit signs of poorer mental health, according to their answers on the Mental Health Inventory (that’s a standardized questionnaire social scientists often use to measure a person’s psychological state).
Previously, social scientists have found that people who carry other types of debt, like consumer debt from an overly loved credit card, are more likely to suffer from psychological issues, such as anxiety and other mental disorders. But the specific psychological weight that student loan debt can place on an individual is worth further exploration — especially, as Walsemann and her team point out in their paper, given that in 2011, 40 percent of Americans younger than 30 carried at least some student loan debt. The average debt, according to that same source Walsemann cites, was a crushing $23,300. Ouch.