Poverty and depression in college students

They say money cannot buy happiness, but money most certainly plays a huge role in general happiness and satisfaction in life” -Annmarie Ivey, counselor

Imagine a college student enrolled in 6 classes, which is 18 hours a week, working 40 hours a week, while also attempting to maintain a household, animals, their social and romantic life, and in general, time for themselves and their needs.

Let’s break this down. A 7-day week has 168 hours; 58 of those are put towards work and school, leaving the student with 110 hours. Let’s say this student is getting 8 hours of sleep every night as well, that leaves the student with 54 hours a week for things like errands, chores, homework, commuting time to and from school and work. This also doesn’t account for time for basic needs, like meal preparation and eating, hygiene care, therapy, planning their schedule, etc.

Now let’s say this student also struggles with Depression, or another mental health disorder. They have to attend therapy every week for an hour (HCWC), as well as handling the previously mentioned life-load on top of having Dissociative episodes, panic or anxiety attacks, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) as well as other conditions that can disrupt a person’s life, train of thought and overall mental state that allows them to be productive and do work.

This is one person’s schedule- but it provides a glimpse into the life of working college students who struggles with mental health. Not every student or person with depression struggle with poverty, it is just more common to see higher poverty rates in those diagnosed with depression and those who face high levels of stress, such as college students. There are resources on most university campuses for mental health resources, as well as local sources.

Hays County Women’s Center councilor, Annmarie Ivey, previously career counselor at Texas State University believes not enough students use their services. “There are probably many students who need the services we provide, but don’t seek them out for one reason or another.” Ivey believes attending school itself is stressful, let alone having to work even part-time while doing so. “Imagine working 40 hours a week, having to attend classes and do all the assignments, tests, and projects, maybe even attending labs which last 2+ hours sometimes outside of class time, making sure you eat enough, if you can afford and have the time to eat enough while paying potentially bills, rent, etcetera, sleep more than 5 hours, and be a part of clubs if you can, and socialize with friends. All while worrying about many other things such as potentially their safety and if their family is also okay.”

Referencing Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs,” Ivey said, “People’s basic needs aren’t being met and they usually are not in ‘safe’ situations. There is a lot of stress that comes along with being in poverty. You’re potentially worrying about when your next meal is, can you feed yourself and your family, do you have a place to sleep, are you safe, but as a young person, there is a lot more that comes along with that. Your hygiene maybe isn’t the best since you don’t have access to places or the materials to keep up on hygiene, and especially if there is a mental health illness/diagnosis involved, they might not even take care of themselves even if they have access to these things. You potentially cannot afford thing that could make you happy.” Ivey believes another issue that follows mental health issues and poverty is bullying. “Unfortunately, there are people out there in this world who bully others, children, adolescents, or adults, and especially when it comes to individuals who live in poverty. They could be made fun of for their situation, not having enough money, their appearance- wearing the same clothes, hygiene, uncleaned clothes, etc.- and for other things not related to poverty.”

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Senior Texas State student and public administration major, Cherokee Sahagon-Barnett, 22, was diagnosed with major depressive disorder in 2017 and has been prescribed a daily dose of 50mg of Sertraline since. “I’ve struggled with depression probably since middle school, but I never sought out help for it until I started here at Texas State.” Sahagon-Barnett works full-time as a vinyl shop worker and attends class full-time as well. “Money is definitely one of my biggest stressors. I get help from my parents, but it only goes so far when I have groceries, utilities, animals, a girlfriend, gas and everything else. It’s a lot to handle it sucks.”

Sahagon-Barnett has been working since he began at Texas State and blames money for a majority of his stress. “Going to school is stressful too, but if I didn’t have to work or worry about money, I feel like my grades and overall mental state would be better,” Sahagon-Barnett said, “there’s just so much pressure- make money, make good grades, take care of your girlfriend, be social- all on top of my depression that makes me not want to do anything most of the time. I feel like a zombie.” Sahagon-Barnett feels that the stress of money is not the cause for his depressive disorder, but that “it definitely doesn’t help.”

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Double major in political science with a minor in Japanese, Texas State University senior Gabi Klein, 22, got diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, ADHD and major depressive disorder in February of 2021. She had to outsource for her ADHD testing because Texas State does not offer it, and when she received her test results back, she was given her diagnoses. Her main reasoning for seeking an ADHD test was to pinpoint whether she had ADD or ADHD. “I’ve had an official diagnosis since February, but I know I have had depression and anxiety since middle school, I would say approximately 7th grade when I really knew.” Klein did not have a support system prior to being independent in college, and never felt like she could speak to anyone or ask for help without facing backlash. “I started seeing a therapist in October/November of 2020 and that was the first-time seeking help. My parents when growing up were always making negative comments about the suicide awareness sticker that they use, the semi-colon, and would make negative jokes about it. I felt like I wasn’t safe to tell them anything and would hold everything in.”

Klein describes her family’s financial class as middle/upper class, and never faced issues of severe poverty like going without food or medical care. As an only child, Klein believes that also made it easier, financially, for her parents and family to avoid poverty, and to help take care of her mental health. “I would say as I got older, the financial problems have become more and more heavily stressed on me, but I do get added stressed when it becomes an issue and the fact that I should be working a full-time job while being a full-time student to be able to save. Paying for my apartment is too difficult to handle, yet as I am only working part-time it isn’t enough money to pay for rent let alone be able to save. But I wouldn’t blame my mental illness as a direct cause from money, I only worry about when it is bad and how to work it out.” Although Klein does not face poverty alongside her mental health issues, she does still feel that others who struggle with mental health and poverty deserve more resources and could not imagine the struggle of that life. “I believe that poverty and financial worries could be worsen someone’s mental health and even lead to mental illnesses as every person is different, and how although they may have the same issues as me; they may prioritize different needs than I,” Klein said, “when you have to truly go on survival mode, everything is completely different- your right hyenine and going to the doctors is not going to be a priority rather than finding food or money and a place to sleep.”

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