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Friday, November 4, 2011

The ties that bind: Health and home

Ever wondered what effect foreclosure has on your physical and mental health? Well as it turns, home and health are more closely related than you may have thought.

According to a new study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, foreclosures take a mental and physical toll on those who lose their house. The study found that Americans age 55 and over were more likely to report symptoms of major depression, go without filling necessary prescriptions, and often lack enough food in their pantries—which can exacerbate health problems.

Further, those who are undergoing foreclosure are more likely to skip doctor’s visits and end up in the emergency room when they eventually do seek medical attention.

Another study  by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that, for every 100 foreclosures in a certain zip code, there was a corresponding 7.2% rise in emergency room visits and hospitalization for hypertension (a condition closely related with stress) and an 8.1% increase in diabetes among Americans aged 20-49. Reported suicide attempts went up by a whopping 39%.

The author of the study, Janet Currie notes,

“You see foreclosures having a general effect on the neighborhood. Everybody's stressed out. There is a connection between people's economic well being and their physical well being."

Experts don’t seem to think the problem is going to get better anytime soon. Since 2003, nearly 3 million homes have been foreclosed on and with the economy taking its time to recover; it’s not unlikely that more Americans could lose their homes in the future.

But it’s also important to note that the connection between foreclosure and health isn’t a one-way street. One study found that “medical disruptions are a major contributor to mortgage default, often striking in combination with other factors.”

Half of all respondents to the above survey reported that the foreclosure of their home was caused, in-part, by a medical problem.

For many Americans, it’s a vicious circle. Housing security and health care are clearly linked and problems with one often mean the other will be strained. When one can’t afford their mortgage payments and their house falls into foreclosure, they’re less likely to get the medical attention they need. And conversely, when one doesn’t have adequate insurance and must pay for health care out of pocket, medical debt can pile up and lead to foreclosure on their home, resulting, once again, in the individual putting their health on the back burner to make ends meet.