Have you ever struggled with credit card debt, paying only the minimum each month? Have you gotten to the end of the month only to find your checking account overdrawn and your bills piling up? Do you look at your student loans and see years of payments in your future? If so, you know what it feels like to have debt and the stress that debt places on you. If you share that debt with someone, you know the strain it puts on relationships. It should come as no surprise to you that researchers have proven the physical and mental toll that debt puts on your health.
A Debt-Focused Economy
Ever since the crash of 2008, Americans have been forced to face the facts: our country is the land of debt. Debt among Americans, especially young people, has been on the rise for decades. It starts with credit cards in high school and continues with the high rate of tuition and the ballooning student loans that many young Americans acquire in the hope of getting a college education and a good job. More than half of the people going to college are borrowing money for tuition and there are currently 37 million people with outstanding college loans.
Young people are not the only Americans drowning in debt, though. A big part of the economic collapse was housing and adults buying and mortgaging homes they couldn’t really afford. Seniors are also suffering from excessive debt. With disappearing pensions and unexpected lay-offs, older Americans are finding themselves in trouble with money later in life.
Debt and Health
A study recently published and led by researchers from Northwestern University has made a connection between debt and both physical and mental health of individuals. The study focused on young people between the ages of 24 and 32. The researchers collected information from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and looked at links between debt and health.
The young people with higher debt were found to have higher blood pressure. The increase of 1.3 percent in blood pressure might sound insignificant, but even that small amount is associated with a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. The people with higher debt also reported having close to a 12 percent increase in stress relative to those with less or no debt. The increase in depression symptoms was over 13 percent.
The Northwestern study is not the only one to make the important connection between debt and mental health. Studies from the UK and Europe have also found that having debt contributes to the development of poor mental health. One found that adults with debt were three times more likely to have a mental disorder than those who were not. Adults with debt and with addiction problems were even more likely to have a mental illness.
That debt affects mental health may not come as a huge surprise to many, but it is still a major public health issue that needs to be addressed. With more people from all age groups in the U.S. getting into more debt, the consequences for the health of individuals are serious. While the mental health of all affected people should be a concern, it is perhaps the young people who cause most worry.
That young Americans are in so much debt is a modern problem, and the long-term consequences are unknown. There are economic concerns: with younger people spending less, the economy is suffering, leading to a nasty cycle. There is also a concern about physical health. The authors of the Northwestern study were surprised to find that debt affected the blood pressure of people of such young ages. It could be setting them up for lifelong health issues.
And, of course, there is the issue of mental health. With debt ever rising, we should be worried about the stress and depression of young Americans. If we can reach young people to help them pay off debts, get them jobs and give them access to mental health care, the problems could be solved. Unfortunately, too many are struggling to find work and have little to no access to debt solutions or mental health care. The overall health of our country depends on solving the problem of debt, or at least minimizing it.