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The financial “Sword of Damocles”

by Robert McDonald

The anxiety created by the Great Recession of 2008 looms large in the mental health of students across the United States. Students watched on television, saw it happen to their friends or experienced the trauma of a parent losing their job or having their home foreclosed.

In the spring of 2018 the American College Health Association  published an assessment titled the “National College Health Assessment”. It found that 35.9% of students had a traumatic or very difficult experience with finances in the previous 12 months, the second largest group after academics.

Brad Wolverton of The New York Times wrote, “Mental health professionals say college students have experienced financial burdens on a different scale than many of their predecessors…They grew up during the Great Recession and have seen family members lose jobs and homes.” Students today experience financial stress differently than previous generations. The trauma of the Great Recession has exacerbated the effects that finances have on the mental health of students. 

Financial stress impacts students in a manner that is unique to them. In a study published by the Journal of Student Financial Aid, they found that “the existing evidence supports the argument that financial stress can have an adverse impact on student health and outcomes.” They then elaborated “that student loans can be a significant contributor to perceived financial stress.”

Loans give many students the opportunity to go to school. However, loans are akin to the “Sword of Damocles” to students, a gift that is waiting to go very bad for many. While the Journal of Family and Economic Issues reported that “higher levels of financial stress were associated with expecting greater student loan debt at graduation and feeling as though one did not have enough money to participate in the same activities as peers.” While loans can help pay for college, they can also leave many students feeling socially isolated which can have a detrimental effect on their mental health. 

Social isolation resulting from financial stress can lead to an increase in anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. It is important for students to be aware of the mental health of their fellow students who are becoming isolated due to their finances. Make it a goal to be there for each other. A small gesture can help someone you never knew needed it. 

It is equally useful to know about the resources that are available to you if you are suffering from financial stress. The Financial Aid office and Basic Needs Program are two solid teams that are dedicated to relieving some of the stress that is caused by students’ financial insecurities. If you have not already, visit the Financial Aid office in Sage Hall, Room 1020 to see if you qualify for a student grant. To utilize the Basic Needs Program for food, attire, hygiene and temporary home security, or to refer a student to the program, fill out the referral form on their webpage, www.csuci.edu/basicneeds/.

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