Background: Levels of student loan debt have been increasing, but very little research has assessed if this is associated with poor health. The aim was to examine the association between student loans and psychological distress in Japan.
Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional web-based self-administered questionnaire survey in 2017. The sample comprised of 4,149 respondents aged 20–34, with 3,170 graduates and 979 current university students. The independent variables were whether or not current students had student loans, and for graduates, the total amount of their student loan debt. The dependent variable was severe psychological distress assessed using the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K6; the cut-off point was 12/13). Covariates were demographic and parents’ socioeconomic variables. A Poisson regression analysis with a robust error variance was conducted to estimate prevalence ratios (PRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs). Because there was a significant interaction between current student status and the status of borrowing student loans, stratified analyses were conducted.
Results: The percentage of those with student loans was 33.8% among graduates and 35.2% among current university students. Among graduates, student loan debt was significantly associated with a high possibility of having severe psychological distress after adjusting for covariates (PR of ≥4 million yen, 1.44; 95% CI, 1.02–2.03). Among current university students, there was no significant association (PR of borrowing student loans, 0.91; 95% CI, 0.60–1.37).
Conclusions: There was a significant association between student loan debt and psychological distress among graduates but not current university students.