Financial pressures are driving many students to depression and blighting their academic results, according to a survey.
Research to be presented at the British Psychological Society's annual conference at Imperial College London this week shows the impact of cash crises on individuals.
The study by Bernice Andrews, professor of abnormal psychology, and John Wilding, reader in psychology, at Royal Holloway University of London, is the first to reveal strong links.
Professor Andrews said the results suggested that more advice was needed to help young people manage their finances "There is a real danger that bright students will not achieve their potential because of the financial burden of study and the mental health problems this can cause."
The researchers sent questionnaires to all UK students who registered at Royal Holloway in 2000.
This was repeated in the middle of their second year and a third survey will be carried out next year. A total of 351 students replied to both questionnaires. Their responses were matched against their exam results.
Before entering university, some 4 per cent reported mild or moderate levels of depression. By the time they were in the middle of their courses, this had risen to about 17 per cent.
The students were asked about 11 kinds of adverse experience they might have endured, including relationship difficulties and how they got on with their parents.
Those who had financial difficulties, many of whom declared that they had had to cut back on food or cancel travel plans, were more than three times as likely as those who did not to develop depression. No other factor seemed to link to depression.
The study shows that students who report mild or moderate levels of depression are less likely to do well in their exams, recording marks 3 per cent lower on average.
Professor Andrews said that relationship difficulties did seem connected with reports of anxiety but did not appear to have a particular impact on results.
The survey also shows that students who are more interested in fame and wealth, as opposed to contributing to society or having fulfilling relationships, score lower marks.