U.S. consumers carry more than $11.6 trillion in debt – money owed to outside lenders such as banks and credit card companies. What does that mean for the average American family? A total of $15,000 in credit card debt, $154,000 in mortgage debt and $33,000 in student loans. While those numbers are certainly harmful to our financial health, there is new evidence that all of this debt is also bad for our physical health.
A new systematic review by researchers from Finland examined the question of whether debt impacts our mental and physical health. The review includes 33 peer-reviewed studies that looked at the how debt impacts morbidity or mortality for people living in developed countries.
What they found should not surprise you: There are serious health effects related to debt. People with unpaid financial obligations feel depressed more often and are more likely to consider suicide compared to people without debt. They are more likely to identify themselves as poor in health and less likely to make healthy choices.
The review found that link between debt and health is a complicated one. People in debt are more likely to feel emotions of share, failure and worry, which can weaken mental health and lead to unhealthy coping behaviors such as overeating or substance abuse. They may also be less likely to seek health care when needed.
The review did find that debt counseling and other programs that aim to reduce the stress that accompany debt can help mitigate the impact of debt on health. But more research is needed to examine the components of these programs that make a difference.
The take home message: Before you take on a mortgage or make a big purchase on your credit card, give some careful consideration to your ability handle the debt you’re taking on. While some debt is a reality in modern society, it certainly has an impact on your physical as well as you financial health.