Death By Foreclosure

The economists concluded in a paper published this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research that an increase of 100 foreclosures corresponded to a 7.2% rise in emergency room visits and hospitalizations for hypertension, and an 8.1% increase for diabetes, among people aged 20 to 49.

From Houston, Florida comes this report of a couple who after falling on hard times financially and facing foreclosure decided their only option was to end their lives. They each left detailed suicide notes that included family contact information, as well as details for their funeral arrangements. It was more than a month afterwards before anyone became alarmed enough to check on the pair.

The reporter noted that his station doesn't normally report on suicides, but that the station felt perhaps they could use the March, 2011 report as a moment to inform people in need that other options exist.

There is no database that keeps track of foreclosure related suicides, and that is likely because it's difficult to label a death due to foreclosure alone, as noted in this research from 2011, conducted by a pair of economists who were able to tie health problems to the rise in home foreclosures:

New research by Janet Currie of Princeton University and Erdal Tekin of Georgia State University shows a direct correlation between foreclosure rates and the health of residents in Arizona, California, Florida and New Jersey. The economists concluded in a paper published this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research that an increase of 100 foreclosures corresponded to a 7.2% rise in emergency room visits and hospitalizations for hypertension, and an 8.1% increase for diabetes, among people aged 20 to 49.

Each rise of 100 foreclosures was also associated with 12% more visits related to anxiety in the same age category. And the same rise in foreclosures was associated with 39% more visits for suicide attempts among the same group, though this still represents a small number of patients, the researchers say.

Teasing out cause and effect can be delicate, and correlation doesn't necessarily mean foreclosures directly cause health problems. Financial duress, among other issues, could lead to health problems—and cause foreclosures, too.

The economists didn't find similar patterns with diseases such as cancer or elective surgeries such as hip replacement, leading them to conclude that areas with high foreclosures are seeing mostly an increase of stress-related ailments.

This Philadelphia, PA report on foreclosure suicides from 2010 tells how sheriff's deputies arrived to serve eviction notices in two separate cases to find the homeowners had taken their own lives.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) conducted an eighty-year study of suicide rates and economic performance, that concluded that suicide goes up in times of economic stress, probably not to anyone's surprise.Unfortunately, the study ends at 2007, before the worst of the Great Recession hit.

“Knowing suicides increased during economic recessions and fell during expansions underscores the need for additional suicide prevention measures when the economy weakens,” said James Mercy, Ph.D., acting director of CDC’s Injury Center’s Division of Violence Prevention. “It is an important finding for policy makers and those working to prevent suicide.” [...]

The overall suicide rate generally rose in recessions like the Great Depression (1929-1933), the end of the New Deal (1937-1938), the Oil Crisis (1973-1975), and the Double-Dip Recession (1980-1982) and fell in expansions like the WWII period (1939-1945) and the longest expansion period (1991-2001) in which the economy experienced fast growth and low unemployment.

The largest increase in the overall suicide rate occurred in the Great Depression (1929-1933)—it surged from 18.0 in 1928 to 22.1 (all-time high) in 1932 (the last full year in the Great Depression)—a record increase of 22.8% in any four-year period in history. It fell to the lowest point in 2000.

2008:

Just an hour before the police came upon her body, Carlene had faxed a letter to her lenders, PHH Mortgage Corporation of New Jersey telling them in no uncertain terms that if they foreclosed upon her house they would find her dead. The suicide note also had another line, which was not initially released at the time of the news flash. It read, “I hope you’re more compassionate with my husband and son than you were with me.”

John continues to stay in the house with their 24-year-old son.

2009:

A 72-year-old woman who feared she’d lose her home to foreclosure hanged herself to death, the family lawyer said.

An Ohio woman who shot herself last fall as she was about to be evicted from her foreclosed home has died in a nursing home.

In Los Angeles, California, a former money manager murdered his wife, three sons and his mother-in-law before turning the gun on himself. He left a suicide note saying that he was in deep financial trouble and had considered killing only himself, but decided that it was more honorable to kill his entire family before committing suicide.

2010:

"Two days before Darius was due to be evicted, he poured flammable liquids throughout his home and set it on fire.”

2011

In November, a Gulfport, Fla., man tried to kill himself after he was foreclosed on. Bank officials and police officers at his door to evict him heard the gunshot.

Also in November, a woman’s decomposing corpse was found in the garage of a foreclosed home. Although it’s not certain it was a suicide, the new homeowner made the gruesome discovery.

In July, Marlyand law enforcement officials investigated whether foreclosure played into the suicide of a 63-year-old man.

2012:

The yellow house at 4316 Clewis Ave. went up for public sale at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

A foreclosure had proceeded while the couple who owned the home struggled with debts, neighbors said. The wife was battling a long illness.

The 911 call came at noon the day of the sale. A man told the dispatcher he had shot his terminally ill wife inside that yellow house, according to Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Larry McKinnon. The man would secure the gun and wait for deputies on the front porch.

A middle-aged woman killed her elderly mother with a double-barreled shotgun and then took her own life inside their foreclosed Long Ridge Road home, Stamford police said.
...
The mother suffered from Alzheimer's disease, and the daughter served as her caretaker, neighbors said. Police said the mother and daughter owed $50,000 in taxes to the city of Stamford and their house was in foreclosure. The home, which was surrounded by an overgrown lawn and left in disrepair, was sold during an auction last month, police said.

Electricity had been cut off from the house several months before Friday. The mother and daughter collected water with plastic jugs since their utilities had been shut off, Conklin said.

Equally disturbing is the fact that after the foreclosure of these women's home, the deceased mother and daughter would have been able to collect on the profits from the sale of their home. Yes, profits. The bank debt was settled, with over $200,000 left that should have been theirs.

During all the paperwork, phone calls, etc. that the bank needed to handle before the foreclosure sale why couldn't they have taken just a few moments to have someone go and speak with these women? Or at least called on law enforcement or some social agency to inform them? They could have been making plans for a nice future rather than planning to die.

Phone calls from the bank came morning, noon, and late into the night even though Norman Rousseau had hired an attorney. A loan modification that never came through, additional fees and interest continued to pile up, and finally foreclosure, with eviction scheduled for Tuesday, May 15th, Mr. Rousseau went into his garage on Sunday morning and shot himself.

These are but a few of the foreclosure related deaths you can find with just a simple Google search.

During times of stress, CDC recommends additional social support and counseling services for those who lose their jobs and homes, as well as additional prevention services like crisis centers. During times when social programs are on the chopping block to balance budgets, I don't see how these needed services would possibly be provided to meet so many people.

Most states have programs such as California's ACCE, to New York's NYCC that work tirelessly to aid distressed homeowners. Thanks to the Occupy movement, there is also Occupy Our Homes nationwide that kept occupiers busy throughout the long Winter, and saved many families from foreclosure and homelessness.

Yet the deaths continue even today, reminders that we are still not doing enough. Cutting social service programs rather than adding to them as many still struggle to survive while our economy heals could be a mistake with deadly consequences. Foreclosures are anticipated to rise again this year.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be found at 1-800-273-8255. If you or someone you know is in an emotional distress or suicidal crisis, please call the Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

You're not alone.

About Diane Sweet

Diane Sweet's picture
Senior Editor, Lives in a gerrymandered district in Michigan.

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