Are Foreclosures Causing More Suicides?

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The suicide rate among middle-aged Americans increased significantly from 2005 to 2010, and a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health associates that spike with the recent foreclosure crisis.

There has been a lot of research on the relationship between suicide rates and economic ups and downs, but the focus on foreclosure and suicide makes this study a little different. Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, RealtyTrac foreclosure reports and the American Community Survey (conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau), researchers Jason N. Houle and Michael T. Light compared changes in foreclosure and suicide rates from 2005 to 2010 in the 50 states and District of Columbia. They divided the adult population into four age categories (18 to 29, 30 to 45, 46 to 64 and 65 and older) and examined the trends in the different groups.

In that time, the suicide rate among 46- to 64-year-olds increased 25% — from 18.5 to about 23 suicides per 100,000 residents — which coincided with a five-percentage-point increase in home foreclosures.

“We know this recession was fundamentally different than the (previous) ones,” said Houle, a sociology professor at Dartmouth College. The collapse of the housing market and the global impact made the Great Recession much more than an employment crisis, he said. The unemployment rate nearly doubled from 2007 to 2010, but the number of homes in foreclosure quadrupled, from 680,000 to 2.9 million. “We definitely did our best to account for other factors in the recession.”

Suicide prevention efforts have historically been geared toward youths and senior citizens because of the higher suicide rates in those populations, according to the CDC, but suicide among the middle-aged has surged and surpassed that of senior citizens in recent years. Skyrocketing foreclosure rates seem to have played a part, according to Houle and Light’s research.

Foreclosure certainly isn’t the whole story, but the significant shift in suicide rates among middle-aged Americans makes sense in the context of homeownership.

“There’s a lot of homeowners in this age group,” Houle said. “They’re really gearing up for retirement. … For these people either losing their home or losing equity in their home when they’re gearing up for this big life stage, they don’t really have time to recuperate from that.”

Houle and Light’s study is in the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health, but they plan on continuing to explore the effects of foreclosure on Americans’ well-being. As far as finances go, while foreclosure is a stressful and monumental event, consumers can recover (here are some tips if you’re in that situation). The foreclosure will definitely hurt former homeowners’ credit for a while, but it’s not beyond repair. If you’re interested in seeing how your mortgage is impacting your credit, you can see two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.


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