A full 36.7% of homeowners in foreclosure meet the screening criteria for major depression, according to a new study released today in the American Journal of Public Health. A further 10.2% suffer from minor depression, the study finds.
The result comes from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, who surveyed 250 Philadelphia residents in the midst of foreclosure to study the impact of foreclosure on health — and the impact of health on foreclosure. Some of the links were surprising. In addition to their shocking rates of depression, people losing their homes were also more likely than residents of the same race and income to suffer from hypertension and from heart disease. More than one fifth had no medical insurance at all (22%, compared to 8.2% in the community at large), and more than one quarter owed money to medical creditors. While most people said they were in foreclosure mainly because of job loss, 8.6% said the main reason was, to begin with, a medical condition or medical expenses.
So what’s cause and what’s effect? Does foreclosure leave people feeling depressed, or does depression make people more likely to miss their mortgage payments? It’s not at all clear from this current study, which was only able to look at people once they were already in mortgage counseling. Still, says lead researcher Craig Pollack, who was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation clinical scholar at University of Pennsylvania when he conducted the study: “It seems that families undergoing foreclosure are facing a tremendous amount of stress. They’re cutting back on their medical spending. They’re deciding they can’t afford this prescription. They may skip going to the doctor for something that they feel is important. About 60% of the sample said they skipped or delayed a meal because of the cost…” In other words, even though there’s no way to say for sure from his study, Pollack feels that the stress of foreclosure could well have an impact on mental health.
“I think there might also in particular be something going on with housing,” Pollack says. “When people buy a house they have a tremendous amount of hope. They’re buying a piece of the American dream. […] And when that dream meets the reality of undergoing foreclosure, I think the difference between expectation and reality may be particularly hard.”