Debt and mental health statistics

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Because money can have a huge effect on day-to-day mental health, personal finance management and keeping debt low can, in theory, lead to better peace of mind.

But after years of COVID-19 effects, economic downturns and rising costs of living, staying out of debt just isn’t as simple as keeping a budget. Being in debt, or even worrying about finances generally, is negatively impacting people’s mental health — as of April 2022, 28 percent of U.S. adults who say that money negatively affects their mental health say that they worry about it daily.

Here’s how debt affects the mental health, regardless of income, age or other factors, of U.S. adults.

In total, Americans carry $16.71 trillion in debt, as of the third quarter of 2022,.

Anxiety and depression are mental health conditions that affect many U.S. adults. 19.1 percent of U.S. adults have an anxiety disorder, and 8.4 percent of U.S. adults had a major depressive episode in 2020 (defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as ).

Many factors can affect mental health, but money and debt, regardless of someone’s income, can have huge effects. When someone is faced with paying back a large percentage of their income to debt, it can become a major source of stress, anxiety and depression. Of those who say money has a negative impact on their mental health, 48 percent say that being in debt is their top issue, according to Bankrate. People with debt are three times as likely to have depression, anxiety and stress from the worry, according to AIMS Public Health.

Over half of U.S. adults (52 percent) who have had a credit card balance carry out and have paid interest report anxiety and stress, per a 2021 Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center (GFLEC) and FINRA Investor Education Foundation study. The study also showed that 36 percent of people with auto loans and 32 percent of people with student loans also report anxiety and stress.

Credit card and student loan debt were also frequently mentioned among survey respondents as a major source of anxiety.

Many, especially younger people, can feel even worse about their finances from seeing how their friends and peers spend money. 46 percent of millennial (ages 26-41) social media users and 47 percent of Gen Z (ages 18-25) social media users feel negatively about their financial situation due to others’ posts on social media, according to Bankrate.

But the issue doesn’t just affect younger adults. Financial stress can impact anyone, regardless of background. Men and people without a college degree who say money has a negative impact on their mental health also report more daily negative mental health effects than others as a result of money.

Just as debt can worsen your mental health, mental health challenges can make it more difficult to manage your personal finances, only continuing the cycle and often worsening both. Here are a few ways how.

Debt affects how people will be able to meet financial milestones in the future. 59 percent of U.S. adults who took on student loan debt for their education have delayed financial milestones, including future purchases like buying a house and saving for life milestones like getting married or having children. Here are some milestones people have had to delay due to student loan debt, according to a March 2022 Bankrate study:

COVID-19 hasn’t just affect physical health; it’s affected mental health, too. As people suffered layoffs, furloughs and other reduced income, , per a 2021 Pew Research study.

People were still worried about their ability to pay their expenses a year after COVID-19 first hit the U.S., with 27 percent of people saying in 2021 that they worried frequently about paying their bills, according to Pew Research. Also, 49 percent of people who lost wages during the pandemic were earning less money than before the pandemic began.

Though debt affects adults of all ages, it doesn’t affect all ages equally. Additionally, types of debt or bills people worry about change as they age. Here’s how debt stress breaks down depending on age:

Making a high salary doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t have stress or anxiety, but it does lower your chance of anxiety about personal finance, according to GFLEC/FINRA’s 2021 study. The study looks at how people of different income brackets report feeling anxiety when thinking about personal finances. Here’s how the responses break down.

Debt can seem like too large of a burden to tackle. But there are ways to not only take care of your debt, but to take care of yourself, too.

Debt can seem like an insurmountable problem, but there are small steps you can take to begin managing it. Start to pay off your debt by paying more than the minimum payment and using strategies like the debt snowball method, where you pay off your debts from smallest amount to largest amount. Exactly which strategy you choose will depend on your debt and financial situation, but that first step can lead to long-term financial, and mental, wellness.

Whether it’s asking for help for your debt from a nonprofit debt credit counseling agency, or asking for mental health help through a licensed professional, you aren’t alone in looking for relief from stress and anxiety caused by debt. Talking to someone about your stress can be a huge lifeline when debt seems too big to tackle alone.

Lane Gillespie is a writer for Bankrate, specializing in writing well-rounded financial content that answers readers' questions, regardless of where they are in their financial journey.
Tori Rubloff is an editor at Bankrate, where she manages and creates data-driven, timely content that empowers readers to make informed financial decisions.