Content warning: This piece discusses difficult topics like suicide. If you will feel triggered by this, please do not read. If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s the one month out of the year when we try to bring awareness to mental health and all of its causes and effects. It’s been well known that financial problems can cause mental health problems. In fact, my friend Melanie Lockert, of Dear Debt, focuses on this very topic in her work. She learned years ago that many of the people were coming to her website because they were Googling about debt and suicide.
In honor of the theme for this month, Student Loan Planner ran a survey on mental health and student loan debt. Their readership is more likely to have high student loan balances, which influences the responses to the survey. Here is what they found:
Ninety percent of borrowers experienced significant anxiety due to the their student loan burden.
One in 15 borrowers have considered suicide due to their student loans.
More than half of high debt student loan borrowers have experienced depression because of their debt.
Why are respondents feeling so awful? Because there is a sense of helplessness when there is so much debt and not enough income to match it. The 829 respondents of this survey are not alone. In fact, there are currently 44 million U.S. student loan borrowers who owe a total of 1.5 trillion dollars. This is especially painful now as wages have stagnated while education costs have increased.
This is especially true for those who have higher student loan balances. The survey found that one in nine borrowers who owe $80,000 to $150,000 in student loan debt considered suicide because of their debt. That’s almost double than that of overall student loan borrowers. The survey found that this range of borrowers were feeling the most pain because of their debt to income ratio. Their debt is high but their income is not necessarily high enough to cover it.
These are some pretty sobering and upsetting statistics. I don’t want to leave you with the bad and not propose any solutions or actions you can take. Here are just some of my ideas:
Really consider what you’re getting into if you decide to go back to school for another degree. A lot of people are tempted to go back to school if they are feeling lost or stumped in their career. But is the debt always worth it? It’s something to ask yourself before you take the leap. (I spoke to Emilie Aries at Bossed Up about this a while back.)
Make sure you qualify and are making the proper payments for student loan forgiveness. Not everyone can qualify for this, but if you’re working in a field that does, make sure you’re taking advantage of it. Talk to your HR department and your student loan provider to get started on the right path.
Start lobbying your decision makers for affordable higher education! The cost of higher education has gone up by over 200% since the 80s. That’s a LOT in a short amount of time, especially since wages have not increased at the same pace. This is a major problem, and it’s something that can be controlled. Affordable education is a hot button issue right now, rightly so, and our decision makers should be getting pressured at every turn. Make sure they know that it’s one of the issues that will sway your vote.
Seek help if you’re feeling anxious, depressed, hopeless, or suicidal. Your debt doesn’t have to consume you. I know that healthcare, especially mental healthcare, is expensive and hard to access. But there are affordable options out there, especially if your safety is at risk.
The moral of this article is that it’s normal and common to feel bad about your financial situation, especially when a lot of debt is involved. You’re far from the only person who feels this way. But it’s important to remember that your debt doesn’t define you. You have inherent worth outside of these things. Reach out and get help when you need it. Talk to a friend for family member, find a therapist, hire a coach, or call a hotline.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Certified Financial Education Instructor. Feminist and financial coach for women. Founder of Money Circle.