The amount that students owe does not necessarily lead to depression, but the day-to-day struggle to manage their cash can, according to research.
Adrian Scott, a psychology assistant at Bath University, told the British Psychological Society annual conference last week that everyday financial problems, such as finding enough cash to pay the telephone bill or to go out for a drink with friends, were most likely to tip students over the edge.
He said: "In focus groups, people have talked about the difficulty of finding a fiver from day to day."
Dr Scott's survey involved speaking to 268 students from different departments at Bath about the amount they owed and their attitudes to debt.
He found that regardless of levels of debt - and how serious the student perceived that debt to be - it was everyday financial difficulties that students encountered that were most likely to trigger stress.
"This research shows the importance of providing training in money management for students," said Dr Scott, "and the need for universities to provide early support for students experiencing money problems."
His research shows that financial difficulties can affect students' mental health. But he stressed: "I don't think anxiety and depression are necessarily caused by debt.
"However, I do think it is an additional burden. If people have personal problems, this might be what tips them over the edge."
He added: "If students at a very middle-class university such as Bath are having problems, just think of the implications for students at other (newer) universities."
Dr Scott plans to follow up this study by comparing depression and debt levels among students at Bath and those at the University of the West of England.