Debt can hurt your pocketbook – and your health

Student debt is more than just an inconvenience for some. (Cara Smith/AQ)

Katherine McTiernan points at her upper back as she describes the physical pain she’s coping with.

She has recently developed chronic tension in her back, which, according to her doctor, is specifically the result of stress.

With graduation just ahead of her, this fourth-year sociology major is struggling with nearly $40,000 worth of debt. And she’s not the only one carrying a big load.

According to a study done by The Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission (MPHEC), the average student in Atlantic Canada will graduate with a little over $37,000.

For those students, debt is more than just an inconvenience.

McTiernan experiences periods of anxiety as well as chronic tension which according to her, is a direct result of stress.

“I know that stress is partly from school work, the curriculum, but also from the stress of knowing that my education is costing me almost a lifetime amount of what I would earn,” she said.

Rice Fuller, director of counselling services at UNB Counselling, said stress is related to poor health. Stress tends to have affect our immune system negatively too, making us more susceptible to different physical illnesses.

According to Fuller, stress can also cause a number of chronic health conditions both physical and mental. Some of the mental illnesses include mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and psychotic disorders.

Because stress has a negative impact on our concentration, Fuller encourages students to try to counter and relieve that stress.

“I cannot stress enough that the human body functions best [both mentally and physically] when a person eats a healthy diet, gets regular (and enough) sleep, exercises regularly, and takes some time out of the day (no matter how busy) to relax,” said Fuller.

“One of the worst thoughts you can have when you are stressed-out is, ‘I don’t have enough time to exercise today” or “If I just stay up all night to study for the test I will get a better grade.”

Craig Mazerolle, vice-president education for the St. Thomas University students’ union, said student debt should be taken more seriously.

“Students in New Brunswick are paying the second highest tuition fees in the country and this is leading to a situation where students have very high levels of debt and it’s really affecting not only their own personal well-being but also the well-being of the province as a whole,” said Mazerolle.

Many students also work while going to school. But studies show the more hours a student works, the lower their grades are.

McTiernan said she had to choose between lower debt or a 4.0 GPA.

“You work yourself to death and it’s either you work yourself to pay for school and get terrible grades or you work yourself to death to get that mark and then how do you pay for school?” she said. “There is no both.”

This struggle to maintain good grades adds to the pile of stress and ultimately has an impact on a student’s health.

McTiernan stands by the belief that student-debt can be directly related to stress. She believes that if tuition were lower, she would be a much healthier student.

“If my education were free, I would work just as hard and I would have so much less stress.”

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