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The Top 10 Worst Jobs For Mental Health Right Now

We did a Mental Health survey of our readers for Mental Health Awareness month to ask about the mental health challenges they're facing right now.

We had over 2,358 responses across dozens of occupations. Our community tends to be younger (85% between 18 to 39 years old), and more likely to owe six figures in student debt (68% owe more than $100,000).

In a previous study of over 800 readers, we found that 1 in 15 young professionals with large student loan debt had considered suicide because of that burden. Since then, student debt has continued to grow as did thoughts of suicide with 1 in 14 respondents experiencing suicidal ideation.

Additionally, we encountered the worst pandemic in 100 years. Academic publications have found an elevated risk of suicide due to the emotional strain of the coronavirus pandemic.

In this context, we ranked the top 10 professions with the most incidence of mental health strain right now due to student debt and the coronavirus pandemic combined.

We'll also break out the most stressed professions for just student loans and just the pandemic as well.

Professions facing big strains on mental health

We evaluated hundreds of professions from our survey in total. To be listed below, a profession had to have at least 50 respondents in the survey.

We ranked the professions based on the percent of respondents who said they were facing a major mental health challenge, such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation, due to student loans or coronavirus.

Here are the professions. 

10. Dentist

Overall percent of dentists reporting mental health strain from student loans or the pandemic: 91%

We found that at the height of the economic contraction, 56% of dentists lost their income completely.

Among our community, the average dental school student debt is $390,000. A typical income for an associate dentist is around $120,000 to $150,000.

Many dentists have the expectation that their life will be very financially stable. However, when you come out of school owing more than many people's mortgage, the strain that takes on you is immense. These stressors can lead to major depression and other mood disorders.

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Add in the trend of dentists becoming employees instead of business owners thanks to corporate dentistry with declining reimbursement rates from insurance companies, and you can see why dentists come in at #10 on our list.

Mental health challenges reported by DentistsDue to COVIDDue to student loans
Suicidal ideation3%5%
Depression32%39%
Anxiety75%82%
Sample = 350 dentists

9. Pharmacist

Overall percent of pharmacists reporting mental health strain from student loans or the pandemic: 93%

Pharmacists were one of the least affected economically from COVID-19 in our survey.

That said, they face severe mental strain from student debt, which is often more than double a pharmacist's income at graduation.

The average debt for a pharmacist in our community is $227,000. Before COVID, the pharmacist job outlook was not very good. During the pandemic, pharmacist hours picked up in a big way as Americans hoarded food, supplies, and medication.

But long term, pharmacists have huge challenges to their mental health after years of schooling only to enter a crowded job market with huge debt.

Mental health challenges reported by PharmacistsDue to COVIDDue to student loans
Suicidal ideation1%5%
Depression26%46%
Anxiety70%79%
Sample = 147 pharmacists

8. Nurse

Overall percent of nurses reporting mental health strain from student loans or the pandemic: 93%

Nurses are having a very rough time right now because many are directly involved in patient care and treating illness or they're at greater risk of losing incomes than other healthcare professions.

In fact, 7% of nurses reported losing their jobs completely in May 2020 and 23% reported an income decline.

Nurses also face the emotional strain of large student debt, particularly if a nurse pursued an accelerated program outside of the usual BSN undergraduate pathway. Of course, all of this can lead to more mental health problems, lack of motivation, and other symptoms from high stress.

Mental health challenges reported by NursesDue to COVIDDue to student loans
Suicidal ideation3%3%
Depression46%57%
Anxiety79%80%
Sample = 95 nurses

7. Physician Assistant

Overall percent of physician assistants reporting mental health strain from student loans or the pandemic: 93%

Although suicidal ideation among PAs was thankfully low, a very large percent reported other mental health issues like depression and anxiety because of student loans or the pandemic.

PAs are similar to other mid level providers in that they are more likely than physicians to be losing their jobs or see a decline in their incomes despite earning less than physicians.

Our average PA reader has about $177,000 of student debt. Many end up refinancing or paying back their loans with the expectation of a stable income.

Right now PAs in elective fields have economic strain and PAs caring for COVID patients in the workplace have enormous emotional strain, hence they're #7 ranking on our list.

Mental health challenges reported by PAsDue to COVIDDue to student loans
Suicidal ideation2%0%
Depression35%41%
Anxiety74%81%
Sample = 82 physician assistants

6. Optometrist

Overall percent of optometrists reporting mental health strain from student loans or the pandemic: 95%

Forty-six percent of optometrist respondents lost their incomes completely. The following May, that fell to 21%.

Even though optometrists are slowly getting back to work, the economic toll of the pandemic on the profession was one of the most severe in our sample.

Our average optometrist owes about $268,000 and earns anywhere from $80,000 to $150,000. Owing more than you make certainly increases the risk of depression and suicide rate.

You might have upside by becoming a practice owner, but the optometry profession is seeing similar corporate consolidation putting downward pressure on optometrist incomes even though student debt burdens soar.

The slow reopening of the economy has also added to the economic anxiety for optometrists.

Mental health challenges reported by OptometristsDue to COVIDDue to student loans
Suicidal ideation4%4%
Depression27%30%
Anxiety80%86%
Sample = 56 optometrists

5. Counselor / Therapist

Overall percent of counselors and therapists reporting mental health strain from student loans or the pandemic: 95%

Although counselors and therapists haven't been as economically impacted as other professions, they had the highest incidence of suicidal ideation of any profession we studied. Helping enhance people's lives through counseling can be draining and the interaction in each session can take a toll.

Counselors and therapists are likely being overloaded right now with emotional burden. Calls to suicide hotlines have spiked during the pandemic, in some cases by 100 fold.

Many counselors and therapists have advanced credentials they paid for with student loans.

The combined feeling of being trapped financially while simultaneously being exhausted emotionally is why counselors and therapists show up at #5 on our list.

Mental health challenges reported by Counselors and TherapistsDue to COVIDDue to student loans
Suicidal ideation7%12%
Depression43%50%
Anxiety77%87%
Sample = 60 counselors and therapists

4. Nonprofit Professional

Overall percent of nonprofit professionals reporting mental health strain from student loans or the pandemic: 96%

Donations to nonprofits are down and will likely fall even further. On top of that, nonprofit professionals typically deal with low pay, long hours, and may or may not have access to good health insurance.

We find that employees at nonprofits tend to have higher credentials and education than the general population, which also means larger student debt burdens.

Even though by definition non profit professionals have access to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, the lack of effectiveness of this program leave many workers at non profits feeling hopeless for their financial future.

With the added strain of the pandemic on the limited resources of non profits, it's no wonder non profit professionals showed up this high on the list. The rate of depression, anxiety disorders may also be elevated.

Mental health challenges reported by Nonprofit ProfessionalsDue to COVIDDue to student loans
Suicidal ideation3%7%
Depression71%69%
Anxiety87%85%
Sample = 68 nonprofit professionals

3. Social Worker

Overall percent of social workers reporting mental health strain from student loans or the pandemic: 96%

Social workers have a really hard time leaving their work at the office.

We've seen reports that children and women are at increased risk right now of domestic abuse or violence. Working in social services with abused children and others can take a huge toll on one's mental health.

Substance abuse and alcohol abuse have also reportedly gone higher during the pandemic.

In America, social workers are at the front lines of society's challenges right now while also dealing with low wages.

On top of their occupational hazards, our average social worker owed about $125,000 in student debt. This is often due to the requirement that many Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) must have a Master's of Social Work (MSW).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports median wages for social workers are less than $50,000 annually.

High emotional strain at work with low incomes and very high student debt are why social workers show up at #3 on our list.

Mental health challenges reported by Social WorkersDue to COVIDDue to student loans
Suicidal ideation2%6%
Depression43%59%
Anxiety89%89%
Sample = 53 social workers

2. Psychologist

Overall percent of psychologists reporting mental health strain from student loans or the pandemic: 97%

Psychologists reported one of the highest risks of suicidal ideation of any profession. They have similar occupational hazards as social workers and counselors because of the emotional burdens they face.

Because many psychologists must have a doctoral Psy.D. degree to practice, our average psychologist owes $255,000 in student debt.

Incomes for psychologists do not match this debt level, at only $70,000 to $90,000 on average.

Mental health challenges reported by PsychologistsDue to COVIDDue to student loans
Suicidal ideation4%8%
Depression40%45%
Anxiety79%88%
Sample = 76 psychologists

1. Veterinarian

Overall percent of veterinarians reporting mental health strain from student loans or the pandemic: 98%

Number one on our list of the worst jobs for mental health strain is veterinarians.

Vets have not faced as severe an economic crisis from COVID as some other professions on this list.

That said, they face huge emotional burdens at work from having to euthanize animals that they could heal but cannot because of economic limitations of their owners.

Veterinarians often get called greedy despite owing huge amounts of student debt and earning far less than their human doctor counterparts with similar levels of education.

In fact, our average veterinarian owed $278,000 of student debt with incomes of $80,000 to $100,000 on average.

Even if a veterinarian didn't feel suicidal ideation, they had the highest level of anxiety from student loans of any profession on this list.

The next time you see your veterinarian, thank them for their heart of compassion for animals and for what they do. They'll appreciate it more than you know.

Mental health challenges reported by VeretinariansDue to COVIDDue to student loans
Suicidal ideation2%10%
Depression41%62%
Anxiety82%93%
Sample = 182 veterinarians

What professions did we miss?

If your profession is not on the list, that does not mean you or colleagues you know aren't facing mental health strain.

Just for the record, #11 on the list of worst jobs for mental health was lawyers, #12 was physical therapists, and #13 was teachers.

One of the best jobs for mental health was actually physicians, which surprised me.

Based on our survey results, physicians seemed to:

  • Be more likely to feel a sense of purpose right now
  • Be less impacted economically than other professions (almost no job eliminations, just income reductions)
  • Have more loan forgiveness options resulting in complete discharge of student debt (such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness)

Share your thoughts on the mental health strains you see present in your profession in the comments.

Methodology

We surveyed 3,472 people from the Student Loan Planner® email list. Eighty-six (85%) percent of borrowers are between the ages of 20-39. Seventy (70%) percent of respondents had six figures of student debt. Sixty-three (63%) of respondents identify as female and 37% of respondents identify as male.I

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