People in debt are three times more likely to develop mental health problems than people of the same age but not in debt, researchers of a new study found.

According to a US Consumer Debt Statistics and Trends report 2013, American consumers were in a debt of $11.38 trillion. It is no secret that being in debt can lead to a lot of stress in life. Researchers from the University of Southampton conducted a new study and found that people under such stress are three times more likely to develop mental health problems.

The researchers conducted a 'meta-analysis', the first time this has been done on the issue, to statistically combine the results of previous studies involving nearly 34,000 participants.

"This research shows a strong relationship between debt and mental health; however it is hard to say which causes which at this stage. It might be that debt leads to worse mental health due to the stress it causes. It may also be that those with mental health problems are more prone to debt because of other factors, such as erratic employment. Equally it might be that the relationship works both ways. For example people who are depressed may struggle to cope financially and get into debt, which then sends them deeper into depression."

Researchers found that a quarter of the participants who were in debt had mental health problems compared to only 9 percent among those without debts. They also noted that people in debt are more prone to drug abuse and depression psychosis. They are also more likely to have suicidal thoughts. In fact suicidal rates are higher among people with debts than people without debts.

"Debt advisors should consider asking about mental health when speaking to members of the public. Similarly mental health professionals should ensure they ask about whether their patients are in debt. Further research is now needed to show exactly how debt leads to poor mental health, so that interventions can be designed to try and prevent those in financial trouble developing mental health problems and vice versa," authors of the study concluded.