Mental Health and Student Loans: You Are Not Alone

By Amanda Cohen on December 22, 2017

College is extremely expensive. No ifs, ands, or buts. However, most people will say it is one of the best investments they ever made (I know that I feel this way). Unfortunately, student loans, for many people, can tarnish their college experiences and negatively affect their mental health and psychological well-being. Tons of people don’t understand the burdens of having student loans because they didn’t have to take any student loans out themselves. However, I am here to tell my readers that student loans are extremely stressful and psychologically burdensome on the people who take them out. Even though many people may not be able to relate to this life stressor, it’s necessary to educate people so that they are more aware, respectful, and caring citizens and students.

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Although I was aware that student loan debt was rising, I did not realize the extent of it. The number of students in debt total about 44 million and the total amount of student loan debt in the United States is $1.3 trillion (for the class of 2016, this averages out to about $37,172 worth of student loan debt per student). Many of you are probably wondering how these numbers translate into mental health issues. According to Ben Luthi, 61% of students were fearful about their student loan debt “spiraling out of control.” In addition to this percentage, he also gave his readers the percentage of students who experienced specific psychological and physical symptoms associated with poor mental health because of their student debt:

  • Social isolation: 74%
  • Headaches: 72%
  • Sleepless nights: 65%
  • Apprehension or dread: 55%
  • Irritability: 55%
  • Restlessness: 53%
  • Depression: 52%
  • Tenseness: 51%
  • Nausea: 50%
  • Jumpiness: 21%

These numbers are extremely frightening, and they, unfortunately, keep rising. If you are someone who is facing this debt, or if you are a friend, a roommate, a brother, a sister, a parent, or acquaintance of someone who is facing this debt and showing symptoms of psychological distress, there are ways to help. If you are the person facing the debt, you need to make sure you are caring for yourself. Even though you may feel that there isn’t enough time in the day to do your schoolwork, work at a job to pay off said student loans, care for yourself, and maintain a social life, I promise there is a way to accomplish all of this. However, before you can focus on anyone else or your other responsibilities, you need to focus on yourself. If you are starting to feel any psychological distress, go to your school’s free counseling center (I know most, if not all, universities offer these services). Usually, counseling sessions are around 50 minutes, which means that they won’t take up a huge bulk of your day. Also, allow yourself 30 minutes to an hour to either meditate, run, lift weights, go to yoga, take a walk, cook yourself an easy, yummy healthy meal, and more. These small life changes will do wonders for your mental health and I cannot stress how important it is to make time for these self-care activities.

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If you are a loved one of someone who seems to be going into psychological distress because of financial issues, please take action. Offer to go to counseling with them, offer to go on a walk/run with them, and ultimately offer open ears, and open heart, and an open mind. You would be surprised to see how far these small acts of kindness can go with someone suffering from mental health issues. When you do talk to your family member/friend, make sure that you don’t sound condescending and don’t treat him/her like a charity case. Make sure that you are being supportive in a way that shows that you care, but not in a way that shows any sort of pity. Be empathetic rather than sympathetic. In addition, small acts of kindness go a long way. For example, if you are cooking yourself dinner and you know that your roommate is stressed/having a hard time, offer to cook them whatever you are making so that cooking and eating dinner is one less thing for your roommate to worry about.

If you are the one in debt and you are already working but need another way to make some extra holiday cash, consider selling any items that you have no use for anymore.  You could sell textbooks, clothing, old school supplies, room decorations, etc. You could also make money by mowing people’s lawns, shoveling snow off people’s driveways, and taking out the trash. If you are looking for some quick ways to make some extra cash, read my other article, “How to Earn Some Extra Cash in Your Wallet.

If you are feeling like you are spiraling and can’t get control of your emotions and fears, there are resources out there to help you:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Suicide & Crisis Hotline: 1-800-999-9999
  • Help Finding a Therapist: 1-800-843-7274
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): 1-800-950-6264

You are not alone. Be sure to take advantage of the mental health resources listed above and the ones offered on your college campus. If you want general help with loan management, talk to your local bank, your local career center, your advising center, and a trusted adult.

I am currently a junior at the University of Michigan.

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