Student Loan Debt and Depression

Michael Lux Living with Student Loans, Student Loan Blog 3 Comments

Depression is a disease that affects millions of people in the United States, can be difficult to detect, and can affect every aspect of one’s life.  According to the Mayo Clinic, depression often begins in the teens, 20s, or 30s.  The National Institute of Health studies show that about 30% of students reported feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function.”

At present, over 10% of Federal Student loans are in default, according to US Department of Education statistics.

Though there are no statistics to quantify a correlation between depression and difficulty with student loans, the fact that both groups are so large would indicate a high statistical likelihood that many Americans are dealing with both depression and student loans.

In discussing student loans with many people across the country, a common refrain that I often hear is how hopeless the entire situation feels.  For many student loans are a rut that is impossible to get out of.  Student loans can have a devastating effect on personal finances.  Research suggests that, debt and financial stress is a leading depression trigger.

Depression Risk Factors

According to the Mayo Clinic, even though the exact cause of depression is not known, there are many risk factors.

They include:

  • Having biological relatives with depression
  • Being a woman
  • Having traumatic experiences as a child
  • Having family members or friends who have been depressed
  • Experiencing stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one
  • Having few friends or other personal relationships
  • Recently having given birth
  • Having been depressed previously
  • Having a serious illness, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s or HIV/AIDS
  • Having certain personality traits, such as having low self-esteem and being overly dependent, self-critical or pessimistic
  • Abusing alcohol, nicotine or illicit drugs
  • Taking certain high blood pressure medications, sleeping pills or certain other medications

Depression Symptoms

The National Institute of Health has put together a list of common depression symptoms.

They include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.

What to do

If you suspect that you or a loved one may be suffering from depression, help is available.  Many colleges offer counseling services at low or no cost to their students.  Many health insurance plans also provide for counseling services.  Additionally, local resources may be available to people who don’t otherwise have access to the services they need.


Today’s topic is admittedly far outside my area of expertise.  However, it is one of the utmost importance.  Struggling to pay off student loans can be a strictly financial issue, but it could also be a symptom of another, more serious problem.  Depression is real, it is common, and it can be treated.  Hopefully a little extra knowledge can make the difference in your life or the life of a loved one.



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Certainly can see the correlation. It can be overwhelming to start out looking for a job and have 20-50K hanging over you head in debt. All of the changes of of leaving college and establishing a new place to live, career etc. can be too much to handle for some if not prepared.

Dear Debt

The correlation is real. As someone with depressive tendencies already, I can tell you my large student loan debt has exacerbated it. Also, my depression hinders my ability to desire to pay back my loans, because sometimes I just stop caring about anything. It’s a vicious circle.

Mike GetRichWithMe
Mike GetRichWithMe

A very relevant topic – young people are encouraged to have hopes, dreams and aspirations – but are then held back by the inability to even start the journey to achieving these dreams by restrictive financial circumstances.