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Foreclosures damage health as well as finances

An often overlooked bottom line of home foreclosures is its harmful effect on health.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
An often overlooked bottom line of home foreclosures is its harmful effect on health.

We’re all aware of the devastating financial effect that home foreclosure has on families and communities.

But what about its impact on health?

In an op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times, Dr. Craig E. Pollack, an assistant professor of internal medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md., and Julia F. Lynch, an associate professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, point out that an often overlooked bottom line of home foreclosures is its harmful effect on health:

“In our 2008 survey of 250 people undergoing foreclosure in the Philadelphia area, 32 percent reported missing doctor’s appointments and 48 percent said they let prescriptions go unfilled, significantly higher rates than others in their community. A paper released last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that people living in high-foreclosure areas in New Jersey, Arizona, California and Florida were significantly more likely than those in less hard-hit neighborhoods to be hospitalized for conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart failure.

“More than one-third of homeowners in our study had symptoms of major depression. The N.B.E.R. study found significantly more suicide attempts in high-foreclosure neighborhoods. For every 100 foreclosures, it found a 12 percent increase in anxiety-related emergency-room visits and hospitalizations by adults under 50.

Other specific numbers from the N.B.E.R. study include the following: For every 100 foreclosures, there was a 7.2 percent increase in hypertension-related and an 8.1 percent increase in diabetes-related emergency visits and admissions to hospitals among adults aged 20 to 49. The health of that age group — young adults — is being hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis, the study found.

But it’s not just individuals whose health is being damaged.

“Losing a home disrupts social ties to neighbors, schools, jobs and health care providers — ties that under better circumstances promote good health,” write Pollack and Lynch. “Neighborhoods suffer, not just homeowners.”

Mortgage counselors as mental-health workers?
Foreclosure counselors are often finding themselves doubling as mental-health crisis counselors. In a survey Pollack and Lynch conducted earlier this year, they found that about one-third of mortgage counselors had worked with at least one homeowner in the previous month who was considering suicide.

Pollack and Lynch argue that mental-health professionals should be working side-by-side with mortgage counselors — and that screening and treating people for depression when they seek foreclosure counseling would actually help more families hold on to their homes.

“[T]he settlement negotiations with the financial services industry over mortgage fraud and abuse should include money for health care,” they write. “Millions of Americans are locked into mortgages they can’t afford. If we can’t help them stay in their homes, the least we can do is help them stay alive.”

You can read their op-ed on the Times website.

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