Financial Distress, Anxiety, Depression, and Suicide among American College Students

Document Type: Original Article


Department of Psychology, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA



Introduction: Despite the established link between financial distress as a proxy of poor Socio-Economic Status (SES) and poor mental health in the general population, less is known about this link on college campuses in the United States. In a national sample, the current study investigated the associations between financial distress and poor mental health of American undergraduate college students.
Methods: Data came from the Healthy Mind Study (HMS, 2016–2017), a national mental health survey of college students in the U.S. The current analysis included 3,598 adult undergraduate college students who were enrolled full time to a bachelor’s degree, were not an international student, and did not identify as a sexual minority. Main independent variable was financial distress and first-generation status. Covariates were age, gender, race, ethnicity, year in the program, and transfer status. Outcomes were symptoms of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. Linear regression models were applied for data analyses.
Results: Financial distress but not first-generation status were associated with higher symptoms of anxiety, depression, and suicide. The effects of financial distress on symptoms of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation were independent of all covariates.
Conclusions: College students with financial difficulty are at an increased risk of anxiety, depression, and suicide. Mental health promotion programs should specifically address mental health needs of low SES students including individuals with financial difficulties.