There is no doubt that college equips students for increased postgraduate opportunities: higher earning potential, improved job prospects, and innumerable social benefits. But not everything that awaits students after graduation is so rosy, such as the many students facing a big ol' pile of student loans. And it’s that student debt that has many severely stressed out, according to a recent study conducted by the University of South Carolina and the University of California, Los Angeles.
It’s already well documented that credit card debt is a significant cause of stress for the typical American adult, and though it might come as no surprise that student loans produce a similar effect, this study is the first of its kind examining the correlation between student loan debt and mental health.
The debt racked up by those who attended college surpassed $1 trillion—three years ago. That's equivalent to about 6% of the United States' federal debt! Researchers wanted to observe and understand the mental health effects of such debt on both current students who are annually borrowing for college and graduates who have carried loan debt for a number of years (ages 25-31).
The study worked with data from a sample of American young adults from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997, and researchers found that those who owe money for student loans experience an overall increased number of mental health symptoms signaling depression. (Signs of depression, according to Anxiety and Depression Association of America, include feelings of sadness, discouragement, hopelessness, and lack of motivation in performing normal day-to-day activities.) The study also showed that the higher the debt, the more symptoms that followed.
Lead author of the student loan study Katrina Walsemann shared her thoughts on why she believed these depressive symptoms exist in the young adults: "We are speculating that part of the reason that these types of loans are so stressful is the fact that you cannot defer them, they follow you for the rest of your life until you pay them off," she said in a press release.
And the American middle class is thought to be the ones feeling the most heat; Walsemann mentions in the release that they "do not qualify for governmental assistance, nor is their family able to take on the bulk of the costs associated with college."
With the struggle to make a living, one can only imagine the domino effect that will follow each of these students and graduates as the years continue to pass by. A rocky financial situation could possibly lead to delays in the typical events of adulthood, like buying a home, getting married, and having children. These issues remain to be studied in depth in the future.