Foreclosures Causing Depression

Losing your home can literally make you sick

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) For people behind on their mortgage payments or going through foreclosure, there are high rates of depression.

The rising mortgage and foreclosure crisis is also creating a public health crisis, as people make unhealthy financial tradeoffs regarding their lifestyles, food and medicine - and are sinking further into depression in the process.

"Stay healthy and seek help during financial difficulties."

A study led by Dawn E. Alley, PhD, of the University of Maryland School of Medicine is the first long-term research to look at the mental and physical health impact of the housing crisis that began in 2007. Alley and her team focused on adults over the age of 50, because more than one-quarter of those in mortgage default or foreclosure are in that age range. Researchers surveyed 2,474 participants about their mortgage delinquency along with measuring their psychological impairment, general health status and access to health resources.

Among those who were delinquent in their mortgages, 22 percent had elevated depressive symptoms over a two-year period, compared to only three percent of those who were not behind in their house payments. 28 percent of the delinquent participants also reported food insecurity issues, along with much higher levels of non-adherence to medications due to cost.

"Our results suggest that the housing crisis may be making health disparities worse," Alley said, "because these groups had poorer health, lower incomes and higher levels of debt even before the current mortgage crisis." In a separate nationwide study, her team also found that nearly 70 percent of mortgage counselors said that their clients were depressed, and a third said they had worked with a homeowner in the previous month who had mentioned suicide.

"Providing food, clothing and shelter is a core drive in all of us," says Russell J. Ricci, MD. "To lose one's 'nest' is a crushing blow to even the strongest among us. Support from family, friends, and others in a similar situation can be life saving when faced with the loss of one's home."

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that homeowners in default or foreclosure had poorer mental and physical health, and less access to healthcare professionals, than those without housing strain. In a 2008 internet survey of nearly 800 residents of high-foreclosure states, senior author Terri Lipman found that the unprecedented volume of mortgage defaults represented an important and under-recognized health issue.

E. Albert Reece, MD and dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said that this issue is threatening to become a major public health crisis if not addressed. The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health and was published in the American Journal of Public Health in October 2011.

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Review Date: 
October 24, 2011
Last Updated:
October 28, 2011