Break Out of the Student Debt Depression Spiral

•  3 minute read

Millennials with high level of debt are more prone to depression. But there are ways to avoid it.

In May 2011, I graduated from New York University with $68,000 in student loan debt. I was nervous and scared.

I had a few job opportunities, but nothing that would help me repay this enormous debt.

Beware Of The Student Debt Depression Spiral

Of course, I knew I had to get my finances together, so I started using Mint to track my income, my expenses, and my debt.

After seeing the numbers in black and white, I felt sick to my stomach. How could I have so much debt? How would I pay it off?

Over the next few years, the debt played a significant role in my mental health.

I felt depressed and overwhelmed by it. I felt anxious about paying it back.

Also, I felt angry for letting myself get into so much debt from a fancy private school, majoring in the arts, no less.

I’m not alone in this sentiment. Borrowers with high levels of debt reported an increase in symptoms of depression, according to a recent study.

But it does not have to be a losing battle! Here’s how to deal with student loan depression:

1. Accept Your Reality

I believe much of my anxiety and depression stemmed from not wanting to believe how much debt I had accrued.

Part of dealing with student loan depression is accepting that you have student loan debt.

And you’re not alone. Currently, over 40 million Americans have student loans.

2. Seek Help

Depending on your level of depression, you may want to seek professional help from a therapist. I knew I needed additional help when I found myself in tears every day, frustrated by my situation.

Consider going to a community clinic or a local college for counseling. I went to a local graduate school and was able to negotiate $5 therapy sessions. The students got experience, while I was able to receive help, even when funds were prohibitive.

If you’re feeling suicidal about debt, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, for help immediately.

3. Realize Your Net Worth Is Not Your Self-Worth

Being in so much debt can make you feel small. In this society where many of us are judged based on how much we earn or have, you can feel, well, pretty worthless.


But it’s crucial to remember that your net worth is not your self-worth. You are more than just your debt, so don’t let it define you. Will you have to make adjustments to your life to repay it? Yes. But it doesn’t make you a good or bad person. Forgive yourself for whatever feelings you may have about yourself related to debt.

4. Create a Plan

The depression that arises around student loan debt may feel like a sort of helplessness.

How will I ever get out of debt? I can’t ever pay this back. I don’t know what to do.

If you’re thinking these things, you’re not alone. I’ve been there. But to move past the depression and the overwhelming feeling of being in debt, you have to create a plan. Start by:

  1. Tallying up your total balance.
  2. Checking your current interest rates.
  3. Looking at your income and expenses — how much do you have left over each month?
  4. Deciding how much you can commit towards debt each month.
  5. Deciding that you are done with debt. You will pay it off.
  6. Looking into repayment options such as income-driven plans.

While seeing the numbers may sting, coming up with a plan can ultimately be very empowering. Student loans are no fun, but they do not have to define or ruin your life. You are so much more than that.