How to Combat Student Loan Anxiety and Depression

Student loans may have been your gateway into college. But after graduation, your debt can feel like a ball and chain. So much so that student loan depression and anxiety can surface.

Our Mental Health survey found that 53% of respondents felt depressed because of their student loans. Even more shocking, 90% reported that student loan debt had caused them anxiety.

If this unshakeable, bleak sadness sounds like you, know you’re not alone. We hear from people everyday who deal with student loan depression and feel like they can’t find a way out. But there are ways to cope with student loans and depression.

Student loan depression: 3 ways to reach out for help

Student loan debt can be a cause of mental health issues, but you don’t have to go it alone. You can reach out to a professional for help.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “I’m depressed about my student loan debt…how can I afford help?!”

That was the exact question I asked myself when I spent a tearful, very depressive year in 2012 lamenting about my student loans. I didn’t have any health insurance, was on food stamps and made $12 an hour. I couldn’t afford therapy.

1. Local college resources

When I was in crisis, a friend shared that our local college offered counseling sessions at a low price. Sessions were with the school’s graduate students who were one semester away from being licensed. I found out it was $15 per session but negotiated the rate down to $5 given my situation.

Having someone to talk to made me feel less alone. Therapy got out all of the feelings inside of me. My therapist confirmed I wasn’t stupid for taking out $81,000 in student loan debt and that I wasn’t a failure because I didn’t have a high-paying job that allowed me to repay my debt quickly.

If you’re feeling the effects of student loan depression, check out your local college’s psychology and counseling department to see if they have a similar program.

2. Crisis Text Line

Another helpful resource is the Crisis Text Line. It’s used for a variety of crises, and you can reach out by texting HOME to 741741.

If you’re coping with debt stress, feel like an emotional hot mess and don’t want to talk or be seen, it’s OK — just text. A common myth is that you should only get help when you’re suicidal, and that’s far from the truth.

3. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Our survey found one in 15 student loan borrowers have considered suicide because of their debt. If you’re suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

If you don’t feel comfortable with that, reach out to a trusted friend. Call your doctor. See if your insurance or employer covers any counseling sessions.

It can be the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but reaching out can save your life and your mental health.

Know your student loan repayment options

If you’re dealing with student loan depression or student loan anxiety, understanding your repayment options can help. The resources above are meant to help you cover the mental health part.

But if your struggle is mostly student loan depression, then you want to tackle the financial part, too. If you have federal loans:

  • Consider an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan. This reduces your monthly payment. You’ll only pay 10% to 20% of your discretionary income, and you may qualify for $0 payments if your income is very low.
  • Look into deferment and forbearance. If your monthly payments are paralyzing, you can temporarily put them on pause through deferment and forbearance. Talk to your servicer to see which option you qualify for.
  • Apply for student loan forgiveness. Your federal student loans can be forgiven through Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program or IDR plans. After meeting each program’s respective repayment terms, your remaining loans are forgiven.

If you have private student loans:

  • Talk to your lender about deferment options. Private student loan borrowers have fewer options, but some private lenders have a deferment plan.
  • Try refinancing for a lower interest rate. If you have good credit and a solid income, student loan refinancing can save you money by lowering your total interest fees. You can earn cash back when refinancing, too.

Even if you’re dealing with major student loan depression and student loan anxiety, stay in touch with your loan servicer or lender. You want to avoid default, if possible, and keep your credit intact.

If you’re in default, get your loans in good standing ASAP. You can get out of default through student loan rehabilitation or consolidation.

Other off-the-beaten path tips

Whether you have federal or private student loans, there are other routes to consider. Of course, these are not for everyone, so explore if it makes sense for you.

  • Move abroad. Take advantage of the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE) and pay nothing while remaining in good standing on your loans.
  • Loan discharge via bankruptcy. Though not ideal — and often very rare — you may be able to discharge your loans through bankruptcy. You can look for a bankruptcy attorney who has experience in this area.
  • Downsize your living arrangements. If you’re brave, and your living and relationship dynamics afford it, you could live out of your car rent-free.
  • Adjust your tax withholding. If you get a big tax refund each year, adjust your tax withholding so you get more in your paycheck each month to help with student loan payments.
  • You can also try to switch jobs and negotiate for student loan reimbursement or student loan assistance at your new job as part of the benefits package.

If you’re riddled with student loan depression and student loan anxiety, you’re not alone. It can certainly feel that way, especially when everyone on the ‘Gram seems to be living perfect lives, with fun vacations and no money woes at all (it’s all a lie).

Remember, you’re not your debt. Your worth has nothing to do with your debt. You matter despite how much you owe. 

So please, if you’re coping with debt stress, reach out and get help to address any underlying mental health issues. Once you’re in a good place, start to tackle the financial issues.

If you need assistance, we’re here to help and can create a student loan repayment plan so you can breathe a little easier at night.

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