The Jarring Link Between Foreclosure and Suicide

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The foreclosure crisis upended many lives and caused a great deal of economic damage to the country. But new research claims that it also drove up the suicide rate — particularly among middle-aged foreclosure victims.

In the study, published in the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health, researchers looked at the connection between state foreclosure and suicide rates from 2005 to 2010 — a period that saw the national rate of home loans in foreclosure just about quintuple as the economic crisis shook the country.

They found that foreclosures do appear to be correlated with suicide, even controlling for other factors. And the effect is strongest among adults between 46 and 64 years old — foreclosures can explain 18 percent of the difference between the 2005 and 2010 suicide rates within this cohort, claim the researchers. (You can't always trust intuition when it comes to these sorts of complicated questions, but it's easy to come up with reasons why a 50-year-old facing foreclosure might be more profoundly affected by it than a 25-year-old, all things being equal.)

This paper is part of an ongoing attempt in the social-science world to fully untangle the effects of the foreclosure crisis. I reported on a study from 2012, for example, that found lower voting rates in neighborhoods hit hard by foreclosures — even among people who were not foreclosed upon themselves. There's still a lot researchers don't know, however. "We are at very early stages of understanding the full impacts of the foreclosure crisis on population well-being," sad Jason Houle, a sociologist at Dartmouth who co-authored the paper, in an email. We do know, however, that they lead to "declines in resources ... and a rise in community stressors (such as crime, abandoned homes)."

Houle said his next step is to get a hold of county-level suicide data, which would allow him to examine the foreclosure/suicide connection in a more detailed, zoomed-in way way. Based on what we know about foreclosures so far, his results are unlikely to be cheerful.