If you have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) could that lead to high student debt? Or can you get PTSD from the stress of having high student debt? Or are both true?


According to the UK’s Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS), 9 out of 10 Britons who have significant debt problems also suffer from mental health disorders, like PTSD. The question that is still unclear is what comes first. Did the PTSD cause the debt or did the stress of the high student debt trigger a PTSD reaction? Or are both possible?

First, let’s look at the symptoms of PTSD:

  • Reliving an event, which disturbs day-to-day activity. Flashback episodes, memories and nightmares of an event. Strong reactions to situations that remind you of an event.
  • Avoidance, with feelings of numbness, detachment, forgetfulness, apathy, or hopelessness.
  • Hyperarousal, which causes a startle reaction. Having difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance, irritability, and sleep disorders.

Think about how these symptoms could both CAUSE a person to go into high student debt, and how they could be CAUSED BY high student debt.

Childhood trauma, violence and the experiences of war are common causes of PTSD. If you’re a person who already has PTSD and you go for a undergrad or grad degree, chances are that flashbacks and other PTSD symptoms will interfere with clear thinking when it comes to taking on student debt. We’re irritable, not sleeping and we become so overwhelmed we may not be thinking clearly when we sign on the dotted line for our loans. On top of the existing PTSD, add the stress of finishing school, finding a job, holding down a job, and staying on top of student loan payments, and we can see how existing PTSD symptoms could exacerbate the already existing intensity of student debt.

Conversely, imagine that the high debt itself creates a PTSD reaction. An April 2016 study by Payoff, a financial wellness company surveyed 2,011 respondents, and found that 23 percent of respondents were experiencing symptoms commonly associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to their finances. Among Millennials, the number was 36 percent.

It makes sense that something as intense as six-figure student loan debt could create PTSD. The inability to find a job, low paying jobs, underemployment, harassing letters from student loan lenders, high interest adding to the already exorbitant six figures you owe, the inability to make more than minimum payments, the level of budgeting that takes all fun out of life — it’s easy to see stress building to PTSD levels. We may have nightmares. We freak out that we’ll be homeless. We avoid even opening the bills. We’re so traumatized we don’t even want to leave the house.

What can you do about financial PTSD? How can you handle the trauma of high student debt? For veterans with PTSD, the US Department of Veteran Affairs suggests talking to a therapist, great advice for anyone with PTSD, including those of us with high student debt.

…”Your therapist helps you understand and change how you think about your trauma and its aftermath. Your goal is to understand how certain thoughts about your trauma cause you stress and make your symptoms worse. You will learn to identify thoughts about the world and yourself that are making you feel afraid or upset. With the help of your therapist, you will learn to replace these thoughts with more accurate and less distressing thoughts. You will also learn ways to cope with feelings such as anger, guilt, and fear. After a traumatic event, you might blame yourself for things you couldn’t have changed.…therapy helps you understand that the traumatic event was not your fault,” according to the VA website.

The site also suggests group therapy, a great way for people in six-figure student loan debt with PTSD to understand they are not alone in their struggles. There are plenty of forums online where you can read others’ experiences and share your own. Understanding that the very real trauma of six-figure student loan debt is a national and even a global issue can help you gain some perspective. Remember, you are not alone.

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