Student debt linked to depression and mental health problems by US study

The more students borrowed, the more likely they were to suffer mental illness at university and in later life, scientists found

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The Independent Online

The stress heaped on students by tuition fees and loans has been linked to mental health problems in a new study.

Researchers at the University of South Carolina found that students with large amounts of debt were more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and stress.

The study, published in the Social Science and Medicine journal, focused on the US but the same concerns have been raised in Britain.

Lead author Dr Katrina M. Walsemann said that the negative impact of student loans continues into later life as along with mental health issues, affected people can be forced to give up their desired career or delay buying a house and marrying because of the financial pressure.

“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 told Science Daily.

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Similar concerns have been raised about student loans in England

She and colleagues examined the levels of student loan debt and psychological wellbeing for 4,600 current US students and alumni aged between 25 and 31.

Results from the sample found a “significant” negative correlation between the amount of borrowing during study and mental health.

On average, the higher the debt amount, the more likely a student or ex-student was to suffer from mental illness.

The findings come after Conservative universities minister Greg Clark was criticised for comparing the cost of student loan repayments to a daily cup of “posh coffee”.

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Greg Clark said students should be prepared to 'invest' in their university education

Speaking at a science and engineering debate at the Royal Society, the Tory MP reportedly said the current system, which sees people pay 9 per cent of their earnings on salaries above £21,000, should not discourage potential students. 

“What that means is if you earn £30,000 as a graduate you pay back £2.22 a day. Now there are people who buy cups of posh coffee for less than that and I think people recognise that that is a phenomenal investment,” he said.

“It’s not just a good investment for the student, but actually it’s a good investment for the taxpayer.”

The Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna, described Mr Clark’s comments as “bizarre” and said they demonstrated “a deeply dismissive attitude towards the real concerns which students and parents have on the cost of a degree”.

A petition has been launched asking the government to increase student loans in order to “reduce the impact of mental health problems in students caused by money worries”.

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A major report has stated that the current UK university funding system is unsustainable because of the high number of students who will never be able to afford to pay off their loans after graduating

The accompanying letter said student loans do not adequately cover the costs of accommodation and living.

“These amounts barely cover the cost of accommodation let alone the cost of living on top of that, this means that a vast number of students are struggling to get by,” it added.

“This is causing unnecessary stress to students and triggering mental health problems.”

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