Debt worries 'put students at higher risk of depression and alcohol dependency'
Students suffering from debt worries at university are more at risk of suffering from depression and alcohol dependency, according to new research.
The research by the University of Southampton and Solent NHS Trust found that symptoms of mental health conditions worsened over time for those who were struggling to pay their bills.
Dr Thomas Richardson, who led the study which is published online in the Community Mental Health Journal, said: "The findings suggest a vicious cycle whereby anxiety and problem drinking exacerbate financial difficulties, which then go on to increase anxiety and alcohol intake.
"Interventions which tackle both difficulties at the same time are therefore most likely to be effective."
The researchers asked more than 400 first-year undergraduate students from universities across the UK to assess a range of financial factors including family affluence, recent financial difficulties and attitudes towards their finances, at four time points across their first year at university.
The study was designed to check on a number of time points to establish whether the financial difficulties or the poor mental health came first. The study also found that students who had considered not going to university or had considered abandoning their studies for financial reasons had a greater deterioration in mental health over time.
Andy Jones, a student of occupational therapy who had to halt his studies because of depression and not being able to financially support himself, said: "When I was not very well, I was not able to work part-time so was unable to supplement my income during university.
"Having financial difficulties increased my day-to-day stress levels and something usually had to give and it was usually my academic studies. It was a vicious cycle."
Dr Richardson, who has conducted staff training at universities on debt and mental health, added: "Coming to university can be a stressful and daunting time for young people and finances can cause a lot of worry.
"We might not be able to change how much debt students are in but we can work with them to help them manage their finances and worries about money in order to mitigate the impact of these worries on mental health."
Nia Charpentier, spokeswoman for Rethink Mental Illness, said: "Problems with mental health and money often go hand in hand, with studies showing that one in four people with a mental health problem also has debts, and one in two adults with debts also have a mental health problem.
"The transition to university can be a challenging time on so many levels. Everything is new, you're away from your friends and family, you have deadlines, and you're perhaps budgeting for the first time on a small amount of money.
"If it seems like it's all getting too much, it's important to remember that there is support available; for example, through Rethink Mental Illness's advice and information service on rethink.org/advice."
Elaine Hindal, chief executive of alcohol education charity Drinkaware, said: "While alcohol can have a temporary positive impact on mood, regular, excessive drinking can have long- term implications for students' mental health.
"Alcohol is a depressant and can disrupt the delicate balance of chemicals that affect mood. This can lead to increased anxiety and stress, and even depression.
"If you need help cutting down, you can visit our website for advice: https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/advice/how-to-reduce-your-drinking/"