Student Loan Debt and Mental Health: A Comprehensive Review of Scholarly Literature from 1900 to 2019

Document Type


Publication Date




The review had two purposes. The first was to examine the nature and extent of published literature on student loan and the second was to systematically review the literature on student loans and mental health.

Materials and Methods

Data from academic databases (1900–2019) were analyzed using two methods. First, topic modeling (a text-mining tool that utilized Bayesian statistics to extract hidden patterns in large volumes of texts) was used to understand the topical coverage in peer-reviewed abstracts (n = 988) on student debt. Second, using PRISMA guidelines, 46 manuscripts were systematically reviewed to synthesize literature linking student debt and mental health.


A model with 10 topics was selected for parsimony and more accurate clustered representation of the patterns. Certain topics have received less attention, including mental health and wellbeing. In the systematic review, themes derived were categorized into two life trajectories: before and during repayment. Whereas stress, anxiety, and depression dominated the literature, the review demonstrated that the consequences of student loans extend beyond mental health and negatively affect a person’s wellbeing. Self-efficacy emerged as a potential solution.

Discussion and Conclusion

Across countries and samples, the results are uniform and show that student loan burdens certain vulnerable groups more. Findings indicate diversity in mental health measures has resulted into a lack of a unified theoretical framework. Better scales and consensus on commonly used terms will strengthen the literature. Some areas, such as impact of student loans on graduate students or consumers repaying their loans, warrant attention in future research.