The Emotional Impact of Debt


Whoever first said that “money can’t buy happiness” likely wasn’t battling mounting piles of credit card debt. And while it may be true that money cannot, literally, buy happiness, it is the only thing that will pay those bills. 

No matter the particular brand of debt (so-called “good” debt or “bad” debt like high-interest credit cards), any debt can have serious emotional consequences. Studies routinely show that debt is about much more than the money: It can cause a number of emotional and psychological issues, from anxiety and depression to self-worth struggles.

The numbers

According to The Simple Dollar, the average American carries north of $15,000 in credit card debt month to month. And the average college graduate will face as much as $40,000 in student loans, with those boasting higher degrees wrangling numbers as high as $100,000.

The realities of anxiety and depression

A University of Nottingham study showed that those who struggle to pay down debts are more than twice as likely to experience severe anxiety and depression. Constant financial concerns can trigger and exacerbate feelings of anxiety, while the nagging feeling of overwhelm can lead individuals into spirals of depression and hopelessness.

Marital conflict

Debt-free spouses can often harbor a grudge against a partner who brought debt to a marriage. In these cases, it is not uncommon for the debt-free spouse to blame the other for financial issues within a marriage, whether or not they have anything to do with the debt. 

Persistent denial

For some debtors, denial is a coping mechanism. By burying their heads in the sand, debtors can create a temporary and fleeting sense that the debt is not, in fact, affecting their lives at all. However, this is simply not true – whether you acknowledge it or not, the debt will be there until it is resolved. Denial can simply lead to continued bad spending habits and delaying your payback plan.

Chronic stress

Stress is inextricably linked to debt. When you owe a massive amount of money, it is natural to wonder whether you will ever be financially healthy again. Not to mention, debt can also increase your stress at work, as a job loss or demotion can mean even more financial havoc. As such, you may feel increased pressure and strain over small setbacks in your career trajectory.


It can be hard to accept that you are in debt, particularly when it is beyond your control (i.e., if it belongs to a spouse or partner, or if you needed to go into debt to pay off a steep medical bill or other necessary expense).


Debt can make you feel inadequate, burdensome, and selfish – especially if you’ve brought debt to a marriage.


In time, you may grow to fear falling into severe financial hardship, like a foreclosure, eviction, or bankruptcy. You may also fear that an unexpected emergency like a car break-down will ruin you financially. 

The Road to Recovery

If you’re steeped in debt and dealing with any number of these challenges, rest assured that there are options for you, that you can become debt-free, and that there are companies out there that can help. Also, if you are suffering from depression or anxiety in connection with your debt, don’t be afraid to ask for professional help from a therapist or licensed clinical social worker. 

Additionally, consider whether you can seek relief by pursuing various debt relief options. For instance, debt settlement programs can help you by settling – or forgiving – a substantial portion of your debt.

No matter which option you choose, it is never too late to prioritize your mental health, even in the face of overwhelming debt.