Back to school is a stressful time for any college kid — what with chic back-to-school supplies to buy and a full-on dorm room makeover to carry off (on a budget, of course). But thanks to a new study by the University of Southampton and Solent NHS Trust, we now know the number one cause of stress in college kids… and surprisingly, it *isn’t* exam season (though those countless hours of studying aren’t exactly fun).

stressed school backpack

In the study, researchers asked more than 400 first-year university students in the UK to assess their financial well-being at four points during the school year — including asking them to evaluate things like family wealth, recent financial difficulties (AKA having to borrow money from loved ones) and their personal attitudes toward their finances.

Just like you’d expect of any sane person, the researchers were expecting to see a heightened level of stress in those who were struggling to pay the bills. However, what they found was far, far worse. The researchers found that symptoms of mental health issues including anxiety, depression, stress and alcohol dependence were present in college kids who were struggling to pay the bills and/or were worried about the amount of debt they were in. And even more saddening, the symptoms actually worsened over time.

Dr. Thomas Richardson, the lead author of the study, says that “the findings suggest a vicious cycle whereby anxiety and problem drinking exacerbate financial difficulties, which then go on to increase anxiety and alcohol intake.”

Now that we know how serious it can be, this might be just the motivation we need to get our butts in gear and think critically about how we manage our finances as twenty-somethings. But more than that, it’s time for community leaders and politicians to take the topic of economy election issues for millennials seriously — for both our wallets’ sake AND our mental health. Because college loans debt clearly isn’t a joke.

Is college loan debt stressful for you to think about? Let us know on Twitter by mentioning @BritandCo.

(Photo via Getty)